Video raises questions about Shelter at Home program

Video raises questions about Shelter at Home program
Published: Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:53 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2016 at 3:50 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of people have signed up for the state's Shelter at Home program, but now some say the work being done is not what they expected.

On Sunday, Montrail Tony used his phone to give a tour of his friend's home, which is part of the program.

"This is an embarrassment, this is a damn slap in the face," Tony said in the video.

The video got the attention of many, garnering thousands of views. Gov. John Bel Edwards, who first introduced the program as a way of getting people into their homes faster, was among those watching.

He brought the video to the attention of the contractor overseeing the Shelter at Home program for the state, AECOM, during a meeting Monday.

"According to what the governor said and according to what the lead managers for the program said, that home in its state would never be signed off on for final approval," said Mike Steele, the spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP).

The governor was frustrated by the quality of the work in the house from the video, according to a spokesman. It should be noted that the construction at the home in the video was not yet complete, and there was still more work to do before an inspection would actually occur.

Since it went into place several weeks ago, nearly 19,000 people have signed up for the program which is aimed at making a home safe and livable.

"The cap on the project is $15,000 per home. Not every home is going to require $15,000 of work," Steele said.

The repairs that are part of the program are basic: wooden counter-tops, privacy walls, electricity, and new doors. They are not designed to be permanent solutions, simply temporary fixes that can be ripped out when long-term options can be installed.

"Someone described it as camping out in your home basically while you're waiting for those long-term repairs to be done," Steele said.

Members of the governor's staff visited the home featured in Tony's video, promising that the work would be better. That prompted a second video, recorded by Tony on Monday. In it, he apologized to the governor.

Still, in a phone interview, Tony said he felt the program was an "injustice to taxpayers" and that the money could be better spent by giving it directly to homeowners rather than paying for temporary fixes.

"We understand that we're not moving into a suite when they're done doing what they're doing, but it has to be done a heck of a lot better than what's being done," Tony said in the second video.

However, the money funding the program is largely coming from FEMA's Public Assistance Program, with only a 10 percent share being paid by the Bayou State. Rules limit how that cash can be spent, including preventing it being given directly to homeowners.

"Because this money is coming from that program, it's not able to just be given to the public like other assistance programs," Steele said.

On Monday, Gerard Stolar with FEMA released a letter clarifying yet another piece of confusion about the Shelter at Home program. The letter indicates that mobile homes can qualify for the program on a case-by-case basis.

RELATED: FEMA says some mobile homes qualify for Shelter at Home program

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