Our view: Lafourche, fix this problem
Imagine being scared to walk into your own bathroom, worried that the floor would collapse beneath you, knowing that the problem worsens every day but understanding you don’t have the means to fix the issue.
Imagine, then, that you hear of a government-assistance program that will solve this problem and many more, including repair of a leaky roof and broken windows.
Imagine being vetted for the program, submitting all the required documentation, being told you are eligible, meeting the contractor who will do the work and then, well, ‘We can’t help you because we made some mistakes.’
There is no doubt the failure of Lafourche Parish Government to dutifully administer the housing-rehabilitation had an emotional and tangible impact on several people among us who need help the most. It is a black eye for government efficiency. Coupled with other problems that have faced programs benefitting low-income residents, it has caused some to question whether the parish can empathize with the poor, whether is that right or wrong.
As we reported today, the housing-rehabilitation program’s failure appears to be rooted in the transition from one manager to the next, prompted by the firing of Freddia Ruffin-Roberson.
Prior to her ouster, from all accounts for unrelated reasons, Ruffin-Roberson sent all applications the parish received to the state, putting the onus on her overseers to vet prospective homes based on cost. Many were rejected for various reasons, and those addresses are not eligible to reapply.
Joni Tuck replaced her and was meticulous in how the parish culled, identified and submitted applicants to the state. When Tuck took over, she had nine months to submit roughly eight homes for state approval and have contractors finish the work on them. She said she struggled to find out where the program had been, which she deemed necessary to be able to move it forward.
Ultimately, some addresses were submitted, but not quick enough to garner the state’s green light.
To lump the blame at this point on either/or would take a leap in judgment, though that has not stopped officials on either side from criticizing the other. Councilmen have already begun their public search for culpability, inevitable in that an error this impactful will always draw ire. As a body, the council has the authority to fire Tuck, an authority some members have proven to have no aversion to utilizing.
Perhaps the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, with access to Lafourche Parish emails concerning the matter, will shine light on other aspects of the program’s failure. But it appears instability and differing managing styles contributed heavily to this lapse.
The Office of Community Action has been unstable for years. To shake it up again would be counterproductive.
The parish and its council should instead focus its attention on rectifying the wrongs laid upon needy residents, even if that means funding their home improvements with parish funds and developing a system of checks and balances to ensure it is done fairly.
Imagine parish government not attributing blame, but fixing its errors.