June 25th, 2007

Swedish Chef

The long and winding road where?

We are embarking on a lost cause, something which I question if we even have a snowball's chance in July here in New Orleans of ever reaching.  We are trying to finish The Road Home, the federal program administered by the State of Louisiana to give money, in the form of grants, back to homeowners who suffered definite financial losses from the destruction of their property in either Hurricane Katrina or Rita, or as what has devastated my city of New Orleans, recompense for the shameful failure of the levee system designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers that flooded the city and killed over 1,000 people.

Poppy and I had about 7 feet of water in our old house.  It crumbled the foundation, ruined the entire electrical outlets, killed everything in our garden -- even a bird of paradise plant that was over 50 years old, and caused severe structural damage to the building.  Luckily (and I mean this sincerely) we also had significant roof damages, which caused even more structural damage to the house, but it also meant we had the right to collect something on our homeowner's insurance policy, too.

We finally were paid off on both insurance policies: the flood policy was settled quickly, but the homeowner's from Allstate lingered.  At one point they cancelled a check right from underneath us, which caused us a delay in paying off our old mortgage.  That significant problem also delayed us from bidding on another house we wanted, and that delay sent PZB into a spiral of doom that we almost couldn't get past.  It was hairy, frightening, and utterly infuriating to the point of rage.  We finally received the last check from Allstate on May 31, 2007.  

We hired a public adjuster, who was expensive but efficient.  Public adjusters have the sole ability to negotiate your settlement with your insurance co. before you enter the battle in the courts with lawyers.  As a result, we are somewhat ahead of many Gulf Coast citizens: we have been paid something, whereas many people are still either waiting for further insurance settlements or waiting for their day in court.  If you live somewhere normal, you might think that life is picking up down here, and in certain ways, you'd be right to think so.  However, insurance companies have put the region, particularly south Louisiana, in an economic stranglehold.

If people truly understood the scope of what's happened to Louisiana, the rest of the nation should be terrified of future national disasters.  People are systematically being kicked out of insurance policies for every reason these companies can dream up.  Live near a national forest?  Better get a new "fireproof" roof at your own cost of $20,000 plus, or we're dropping you.  Oh, you need to upgrade your insurance policy because your house has gone up in value?  That sounds like a new policy to us, nevermind that you've been writing Allstate a check every month for 18 years, so when you do finally have to make a homeowner's claim, we can drop you because, well, because we can always drop new policies if your state declares a local emergency, and it's so convenient we tricked, ahem, you selected a new affiliate in our company for that reasonable upgrade, ahem, new policy.   Tough luck, that new policy that, incidentally, you paid us more to get.

If Americans truly understood the savage risks they will be subjected to if a national disaster occurs in their hometown, maybe they'd put down the remote control and give a crap about what's going down in New Orleans.  You're next, buddy.  The insurance companies are perfecting their scam now on us down here, and honestly, we're too dazed, worried, and beaten down to galvanize much of a protest, but I hope you're taking notes where you live because they're gonna own you, too.  They already own your politicians.  They already have it figured out so that you have no chance but to deal with them on their terms.  

I really like how they can kick the living shit out of New Orleans, then use our Sugar Bowl in our Superdome to sponsor the biggest college football game the city can host.  Allstate's Sugar Bowl.  Yeah, you gotta bleed before we pay you, but we got so much money we can blow it on sponsoring millions of dollars to cover over the fact we're killing your city ... softly.  So the Sugar Bowl is gonna host the college football National Championship this season, and Allstate will be the lead sponsor.  It's disgusting.

I'm sorry, but I digress.  

Since we managed to cobble up enough money to pay off our mortgage on our old home, that didn't leave with much money leftover.  We needed to sell that property to give us a chance at sanity, to escape the vicious circle of claustrophobia and doom that living with 20 cats in a four room 900 sq ft apartment can do when your life and city you used to have has been eradicated by broken federal levees.  We sold the house for the land value, plus about $7,000 for a grand total of $80,000.

Our house was big.  We got it for a good price because the original owners had died and nobody in their family wanted it, and because the house next door was a complete disaster.  Eventually, we had great, new neighbors who fixed up that house -- which is now worth over $400,000.  Our house was pegged at $305,000 by the Road Home as its value on Aug. 28, 2005 before the hurricane hit and the levees collapsed.  It would seem to me that it's painfully obvious that there was a discrepancy between the number we were able to sell our badly damaged home at and the value of my old home.  To me, the numbers indicate that our home equity, our only significant investment, was stolen from us by the federal flooding of New Orleans.

However, because we were forced to sell our old property to secure enough money to buy our new home, a much smaller home that we really like -- in a much more dangerous New Orleans neighborhood, a neighborhood that, again, we really like despite its awful reputation, we are being told we will get zero from The Road Home.  Oh, if we'd waited like good children for the real estate speculators to come up with their grand scheme, we could've stayed in our little apartment for 6-10 more nerve-wracking months, and we'd have been paid $150,000 to begin looking for a new home.  So because we are committed to New Orleans, because we are committed to each other, because we were lucky to get some insurance money from the rapacious corporate insurance bandits, because of these and so many other incredible twists of fate, we should be penalized at least $70,000 and given no recompense for our old home from the federal government.  If only I could live life as slow as a zombie bureaucrat, I could've lived this life in recovering New Orleans as pure FEMA data waiting soulessly for my chance to hear that now -- almost two years later -- I could imagine having a new home.  Instead, we've made it back on our own road home; unfortunately for us, that's not acceptable to the zombies who govern over this national disaster.

But first, the government needs to dangle the money at us, like we've done something wrong, then snatch it away and cry that we citizens of Louisiana ask for too goddamn much.  It's disgusting.  If you read this, and you think I'm getting what I deserve -- it's clear to me that we do not share the same ideals of the same nation.  You live by the blue glow of the TV set and the digital computer, and you better go home and kiss everybody, every single thing you own because in a second of awful reality, a national disaster, you could be just like me -- and you'd better watch out because the powers that be will be better prepared to rid you of your carefully manicured life in a Louisiana second.

So weary of all this heinous financial and psychic heartbreak, we are preparing to battle again for our right to live in New Orleans.  We are alerting legislators, mine and yours, about the long & winding road we've taken to settle into our new home here in New Orleans.  We are asking for help, even though we wish to God that we did not have to ask.  Logically, I should ask everybody who reads this to please sit down and write your legislators, Gov. Blanco, your local newspaper to support homeowners who were devastated by the floodwaters.  It's a no-brainer to ask for this, but in reality, it's my fight.  I will have to send my forlorn letters that state the perfectly obvious fact to a system that will most likely refuse to listen.  I will try to couch my words in just the right way to honestly tell people that I'm desperate, that I need taxpayer help to recover my life, that I've been a good American.

Unbelievable.  OK.  You can punch another button on that mouse, that remote control.  I'll be here when/if you get back.  Thanks in advance to everyone who cares because I need your strength and fortitude to face this hopeless task.