Homeowner says he didn't know about Restore Louisiana two-foot rule
BATON ROUGE - Another homeowner is finding out the hard way that they didn't build their home high enough according to Restore Louisiana standards, but he tells 2 On Your Side someone should have told him that information a long time ago.
According to the City-Parish, Joan and Ronnie Stephens elevated their mobile home high enough following the 2016 flood. EBR Parish rules established under the Floodplain Ordinance require a one-foot freeboard, but the Restore Louisiana program requirement is two feet above Base Flood Elevation.
"If they would have told us this, in the beginning, we would have made plans to go up another foot," said Ronnie Stephens.
Instead, Stephens says he didn't find out about the program requirement until Monday. Now he says his hopes of a reimbursement check all but flew out the window.
"Now they say we're ineligible," he said.
WBRZ first met Joan and Ronnie in October 2017. The couple had recently moved a mobile home onto their property and hired a company to set and block it to the proper specifications. The job was done incorrectly and was four inches shorter than the required height set by the City-Parish. The contractor they had hired out of Texas flew the coup and didn't return to make things right. After the 2 On Your Side story aired, A-1 Mobile Home Movers, LLC, called WBRZ and offered to help the Stephens' block and level their home for free.
Stephens says he first contacted Restore Louisiana in September 2017 and Restore Louisiana confirms that date. Restore says he was invited to apply for the program in October 2017 and submitted the application in December 2017. Stephens says someone with the program should have told him about the two-foot rule back then.
"I understand you got a process to go through," he said. "I understand there are rules and regulations but if we would have been aware of these rules and regulations, in the beginning, we wouldn't be here right now."
Recently, 2 On Your Side started receiving calls from flood victims with similar issues. Brandi Hart said her family applied for Restore Louisiana as soon as the surveys were available. It wasn't until her home was finished being built did she learn from Restore that she was ineligible for reimbursement money because she was also a foot too short. Collins Wheat contacted WBRZ after he saw Hart's story and learned his mobile home was six inches short of qualifying for Restore reimbursement funding.
Restore Louisiana says there are about 80 applicants who do not meet the HUD required elevation standard of BFE plus two feet. Ten of them are single-family homes that were built from the ground up, the rest are mobile homes and about half of them are in Livingston Parish. The Program does offer elevation assistance for eligible applicants and it's working through possible options on how to handle all cases. Restore says it is able to assist Stephens in moving forward with elevation if he is interested in pursuing that option.
Different local, state and federal entities are involved in developing standards for elevation requirements. But in Louisiana, the responsibility to issue building permits lies with the local municipality. In addition, Restore Louisiana tells WBRZ the two-feet HUD requirement standard has been in writing since January 2017. Stephens maintains he never saw this in writing, nor was it verbalized until very recently.
"Nobody the whole time has ever told us," he said.
Two On Your Side recently reached out to Congressman Garret Graves' office about the Restore applicants that don't meet the requirements. Graves' office says about a dozen people have reached out, and they are working with them on a case by case basis. An exemption, which would have to be requested by the state, has not been pursued.