Monday, August 24, 2015

"Gimme my stuff"

This is an excerpt from an essay by Sarah Broom published in The New Yorker. It is about her family's decade long struggle with recovery after losing her mother's house in the flood.
My mother and I make the trip to the Road Home office, where even the caseworker is surprised that we’re still in limbo. It’s too late, he says—they’re closing down the program. I plead and insist: my mother was sixty-four when the process began; she’s seventy-four now.

As long as we owned the land, my mother could sell it to Road Home in exchange for a grant that would allow her to buy another home. But the program had become an endless loop, bungled and exhausting, seemingly designed to wear you out. My mother tried to make it go. So did my brother Eddie, who has a big job at an oil plant where daily he makes things go.

Because we children were all part owners of the Yellow House, we had to transfer our stakes to my mother. The law firm contracted by Road Home to close the file suddenly changed. Its requests for materials were unclear. My mother would call me in New York, speaking in vague avoidance: “Those people said they need another paper or something.” Without the means to hire lawyers, very little advanced.

Days before I arrived, my mother called the law firm and was told that her case had been closed for nonresponsiveness. They had made a single unanswered call.

I tell all of this to the caseworker. My mother stays silent, peeking at the man as if from behind a veil. We take all the required steps to reopen the case. The caseworker promises that he’ll do his best—he seems hopeful—but we’ve heard nothing since then about the status of our case, which is really the question of whether my mother will ever live in her own house again.

Recently, the city notified us that our property would be sold for nonpayment of back taxes if we did not appeal within sixty days. My mother called me, upset, saying, “You know I’m not all that business-minded.” All I could think was to call the Road Home number and leave another message. “Please tell us what to do,” I said.
Road Home was supposed to help homeowners like this cover the cost of rebuilding.  It was insufficient to the task, though, and the result has been a drastically uneven recovery. Those who could muster the resources and the credit to keep themselves afloat long enough to make programs like Road Home work for them were able to come back.  Those who couldn't were left behind.

Mitch Landrieu has been asked about that a lot this month.  His answer to Buzzfeed was, "we have limited resources. And the market needs to help too."  OK. But "the market" is what's caused the discrepancy in the first place.  When we design programs like Road Home, you'd think we'd try to account for the inherent inequalities of the market.   But that may be too much to ask for Mitch, who said this today at the "Atlantic NOLA" conference.

After 10 years I guess it's still rude for some of us to ask for our stuff back.

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