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Road Home fight travels to nation’s capitol

1st July 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Travis M. Andrews
Contributing Writer

Viola Francois Washington is pissed. And she’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.

And on Sunday, July 7, she plans to take 500 people on 10 buses from the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne Ave. to the center of this country’s power: Washington, D.C. Washington says she has contacted everyone from Congressman Cedric Richmond to President Barack Obama to inform them of the coming storm.

Washington’s reason for the bus trip protest can be boiled down to two words that speak volumes to many residents of Southern Louisiana: Road Home.

Her reason?

“You’d have to be blind, deaf and crazy not to do something about it,” she recently told The Louisiana Weekly.

Like so many others, Washing­ton’s losses in Hurricane Katrina were overwhelming. Among them was the structural integrity and livability of her Gentilly home.

“My home was damaged,” she told The Louisiana Weekly. “I had water — at one point five or six feet — in my home. I lost everything. But did I receive money from Road Home? No! Because we did the responsible thing and had insurance. And since we had insurance, we were penalized.”

Three years ago, Washington decided to research the program in order to fully understand why she hadn’t received compensation for losing everything she owned in one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history: the exact thing Road Home was supposed to do.

At the time, she had no pipe dreams of protests. She was genuinely curious, but what she found infuriated her. According to Wash­ing­ton, residents of Mississippi received $150,000 for each destroyed home, but Louisiana residents “did not get the value of our home.”

Finally, she discovered discriminatory rules and formulas in the Road Home application system. The formula for restitution originally was based on the damage value but changed to the pre-storm value of the home in question. This generally meant that those with lower value homes, and often little funds, received less money than there was damage.

“When they asked for the money, it was about damage value to the property, but when they started the work they found it was more feasible for them … to create a land trust program where they could take people’s properties who could not come back again,” Washington said.

But people weren’t complaining, at least not when she started looking into things. While she and many others still felt the effects of the storm, everyone else thought that New Orleans’ disaster recovery efforts were largely successful and that no one was being left behind.

“People were under the impression that their tax dollars reached Louisiana, and we were whole again,” Washington said.

But her community wasn’t. So she started the Road Home Action Network Team (RHANT), a group of homeowners prepared to protest what they consider a flawed and discriminatory program.

“Our goal is to meet with the president,” she said, before adding, “People are still suffering, people are still displaced, people are still not back in their homes.”

And that’s exactly what she plans to do with the bus trip: Take the protest to the president of the United States, in hope that something might change.

“There are so many people who are suffering,” she told The Louisiana Weekly. “There are so many displaced people the media doesn’t talk about. And we want the president to know that we are not whole here.”

Even now, eight years after the storm, she continues to fight. As does everyone else who will be on that bus, who paid $200 simply to be there.

“We’re not going to the casino. We’re not going to the Saints game. We’re going to Washington, DC to take care of business,” she said.

The group hopes to meet with President Obama and members of Congress to raise awareness of the difficulties they continue to face as a result of a flawed program that many homeowners say penalized poor, working-class and Black New Orleans homeowners and made it impossible for them to rebuild their lives and homes nearly a decade after Hurricane Kat­rina.

The planned bus ride to DC has been picking up steam lately as an increasing number of residents still trying to rebuild after Katrina realize that they are not alone and that there is power and strength in numbers.

The group can also expect support from a number of New Orleanians who have been working and living in the DC area for years but are still concerned about the problems and difficulties their loved ones face in New Orleans while others have moved on with their lives.

The cost of the bus trip is $200, which pays for transportation, hotel accommodations and a snack on the bus. The buses are scheduled to depart from New Orleans on Sunday, July 7, at 2:00 p.m.

The caravan will return to New Orleans on July 10.

For more information, call Viola Washington at (504) 827-0001.

This article originally published in the July 1, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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