Livingston Parish homeowners shocked by warning letters years after 2016 flood
UPDATE: The parish government announced Thursday that it will hold a town hall meeting next week to address homeowners concerned by the warning letters. Read the full story here: https://www.wbrz.com/news/livingston-parish-announces-town-hall-meeting-for-homeowners-panicked-by-warning-letters
DENHAM SPRINGS - It's been almost five years since the devastating flood in 2016 and some victims feel as if they're being hit again.
People in Livingston Parish received letters last week with a startling warning about mitigation efforts to their home that includes raising their property or tearing the structure down. There are 1,221 homeowners in the parish that are facing this tough reality.
Homeowners who live on Wolf Creek Place in Denham Springs received about six feet of water in their homes in 2016. They gutted their properties and made repairs. Coy Martin says he gutted his home up to his ceilings.
"Receiving this letter is really just a punch in the gut," he said.
The letters say that their property is non-compliant and meets three criteria. The property is in a flood zone. The house is currently under base flood elevation and it was deemed substantially damaged in the 2016 flood.
It also says the next time they need a permit to do any work on their house, they'll be required to elevate it or be on a grant list to mitigate their property. The situation doesn't sit well with Martin's family, especially since they might have to foot part of the bill.
"You know, that's money I just don't have laying around," Martin said.
Caleb Wells moved to the neighborhood a few months ago and it appears he's inherited this problem.
"I was surprised to see a random letter in the mail about non-compliance and lifting houses," Wells said.
They have a lot of questions.
"Do we come out of pocket to only have it raised three feet when we had six feet before," Jeff Adams said.
Brandi Janes, the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director says they're ready to answer those questions.
"In the letter, it states you need to mitigate, or show intent to mitigate," Janes said. "So if you're on the list for grant funding that shows your intent."
In 2019, an audit showed that FEMA realized Livingston Parish didn't complete all of its inspections for properties that may have been substantially damaged from the flood. Substantially damaged is when the cost to repair equals or exceeds 50% of the market value of the building to its pre-damage condition.
While collecting data, FEMA and the parish looked at about 3,800 properties that might be non-compliant. They whittled that number down to 1,221 properties.
"We all went out and did site inspections to see did any of them already demolish. Did some elevate already. That helped us dwindle down the number," Janes said.
There is grant money available for the projects, but only so much becomes available each year. That means people could be on a grant list for years. LOHSEP says the lowest amount FEMA would pay for is 75% of the cost, but there are programs for different things. To get on the grant list, contact the Livingston Parish Grants Department at 225-686-3018.
Since Friday, the LOHSEP has been inundated with phone calls and has been spending their time returning those calls to answer questions.
If you choose not to mitigate your property, your house will remain listed as substantially damaged until it is mitigated. LOHSEP says it won't affect flood insurance costs, but FEMA is forcing Livingston Parish to enforce the rules. That would include not issuing a permit until a homeowner mitigates or shows intent to mitigate.
If a homeowner chooses to sell their property before it is mitigated, that information must be disclosed to the buyer.
People do have the option to appeal if they think they're not below BFE or if they think their home was not substantially damaged. For an appeal, the following must be provided: provide a market value appraisal and damages of the building prepared by a professional appraiser according to standard practices of the professions, and a contractor and owner affidavit sheet needs to be filled out and turned in. You can contact LOHSEP at 225-686-3066 or at EOC@lpgov.com to start the appeal process.