‘It was pulled out from under her’ Once slated to receive $23,000 worth of repairs, local woman’s house is off list
Strewn throughout Shelby Adams’ yard are strands of blue plastic, fragments of a tattered rooftop tarp that flutters in the wind like a flag declaring helplessness.
The tarp had been fashioned to prevent leaks from rain, which over time has discolored ceiling tiles in three spots inside her home and routinely sneaks down the wall adjacent to her couch, on which the 70-year-old Cut Off woman spends her life.
Unfixed, mildew and mold are inevitable, likely even structural weakening similar to what has already occurred in the bathroom, where the flooring around the toilet continues to sink with each day, giving way like mud to a misplaced foot.
“The toilet won’t even stay bolted anymore because (the flooring) is so rotten,” said Tammy Adams, Shelby’s daughter-in law. A hired nurse bathes Shelby in the cramped room. “I don’t know how she can do it. I wouldn’t,” because she fears the floor will collapse.
It was only months ago when Shelby held the belief that her home would be rehabilitated through a Lafourche Parish-managed and federally funded grant program that pays for low-income homeowners’ dwellings to be brought to federal housing standards.
Shelby’s home was slated to receive $23,000 worth of improvement. She was far enough along in the process that the contractor scheduled to do the work had visited the house to survey what needed to be done.
“All of a sudden it was pulled out from under her,” Tammy Adams said.
The program-managing Louisiana Housing Corporation told Lafourche not to proceed on Shelby’s home, as well as at least five others. Lafourche originally had two years to rehabilitate roughly 20 homes. After failing to meet that deadline, the parish was granted a one-year extension through June 30. Program managers still failed to submit applicants in the timeframe the LHC desired, so the state denied a personal request from Parish President Charlotte Randolph for a second extension. In total, the parish rehabilitated 14 homes.
Shelby was reluctant to talk to the media, though she and her family were “crushed” when they found out the promised improvements wouldn’t materialize. “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” she said, but her euphoria has morphed into frustration. Tammy said she would inquire whether the family has the standing to take legal action.
A second homeowner who was promised housing rehab work declined to be interviewed, only saying that he did not blame parish government for the work not being done.
Joni Tuck, the parish’s director of Community Services, said the parish is researching other avenues to fund the originally plotted work. She conceded it is a difficult process to find grants that would fund the relatively small-scale operations that remain and ruled out parish government taking on the burden alone.
Tuck and her predecessor blame each other for the program’s failing. The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, at the request of parish government, is conducting a criminal investigation into the rehabilitation contract’s management.
Born in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, Shelby grew up in Westwego and Bridge City and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, shuffled around south Louisiana through her developing years, fatherless at 2 and motherless before she turned 13.
She arrived in Cut Off with her beau, now a tugboat captain. Shelby was a homemaker, raising their children while her husband worked. They bought the three-bedroom house in which she still lives 51 years ago through United Bilt Homes. Shelby was awarded ownership when she and her husband divorced decades ago.
Aside from the tarp, which drapes over a power line between gusts of wind, the exterior shows its age. No siding covers wooden planks, and most of the windows have makeshift covers on them.
Inside, kitchen space blends into the living room, which is also the pathway to the bedrooms, two of which are vacant and the third, with tin covering the windows, is rarely used.
That’s because Shelby sleeps on the couch day and night, her sleep schedule guided by her 32-pill daily diet. An end table next to the couch is crowded with several bottles of water, three remote controls, body lotion and a catalog of medical supplies.
Shelby suffered two heart attacks in the early aughts, the second prompting open-heart surgery, and she has beaten back colon cancer. Her lungs are in bad shape, so she takes oxygen through a tube 24 hours a day. A few steps away from the couch is her front door, though even with breathing tubes she can’t make that walk without losing her breath.
Shelby’s medical costs – with Medicaid and Medicare assistance – absorb more than 70 percent of her monthly Social Security check, her only household income, said Tammy Adams, who manages Shelby’s checkbook. The full check is equivalent to 23 percent of the median area income. Shelby also receives less than $20 per month in food stamps, so most of her non-medical expenses are on groceries.
Considering the tight financial realities, the family has little hope that the home will be rehabilitated without outside assistance.
“I think it’s crap,” Tammy Adams said. “Somebody dropped the ball and didn’t do the work they were supposed to. It’s not fair.”
Shelby Adams sits on her living room couch, where the 70-year-old Cut Off woman spends most of her time. The roof above her leaks during rain storms and was one of the elements of her house originally supposed to be improved.