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Project on Government Oversight

POGO letter to members of Congress regarding concerns about HUD's The Road Home program

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September 30, 2009

Representative James Clyburn 
2135 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515

Representative Barney Frank
Chair, House Financial Services Committee
2129 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-0535

Representative Dennis J. Kucinich
Chair, Domestic Policy Subcommittee
2445 Rayburn House Building
Washington, DC  20515

Representative Maxine Waters
2344 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-0535

Senator Christopher Dodd
Chair, Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Senator Mary Landrieu
Chair, Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery
328 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Charles E. Schumer
Chair, Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

VIA FACSIMILE

Dear Member of Congress:

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government. The Citizens' Road Home Action Team (CHAT) has brought it to our attention that the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) will be asking Congress to approve diverting the half- to one-billion dollars of uncommitted funds away from The Road Home program. The program is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Community Development Block Grant Program, and is designed to provide up to $150,000 in compensation to Louisiana homeowners for the damage to their homes by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. We ask that you not approve LRA's request until there are assurances that Road Home applicants have had their claims handled fairly.

There is ample evidence that thousands of Hurricane Katrina or Rita survivors received less compensation than they were entitled to under the program. A January 2009 audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, one of at least 11 conducted, found that Road Home contractor ICF Emergency Management Services, LLC had numerous weaknesses in the integrity of the data in its database that tracked disputes. At least 22,000 applicants have had to dispute their grant amount through a resolution process riddled with errors, inconsistencies, conflicts of interest, and a lack of transparency. The subsequent appeals process suffers from the same problems.

CHAT has compiled hundreds of egregious instances in which applicants were given the runaround by the former contractor ICF and by the new contractor Hammerman and Gainer, Inc. (HGI). For example, after several years of struggle, John Lange, Patty Abshier, and 96-year-old Doris Taggart have received far less compensation than they should have, and Denise Fletcher and Renee Cheavis have received no compensation at all, because of patently faulty assessments of the damage to their homes. John Lange summarized his appeals process in a May 20, 2009, email to Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and other Members of Congress: 

This process is coming up on three years now. It has been filled with countless phone calls and letters never answered. When you did get someone on the phone, they were almost always totally incompetent and never helpful. Employees of the Road Home were not allowed to respond in writing to any requests and often denied having made statements in previous conversations. Total deniability. 

In fact, The Road Home program is currently the subject of a HUD Inspector General (IG) audit. No decisions about future uses of Road Home funding, such as diversion to potentially worthwhile projects such as hospital renovation and mobile health clinics, should be made until the results of the audit are publicly released.

Furthermore, no Road Home program funds should be determined "surplus" until there is no doubt that funds are not due to Road Home applicants, who are struggling to rebuild their homes and lives in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One way to assure this is to re-open applicants' appeals to be heard by Administrative Law Judges, who at one point were the third-tier review panel for The Road Home program.

I look forward to your response, and if you would like additional information, please contact Ingrid Drake at (202) 347-1122 or idrake@pogo.org.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director