Lack of Proper Paperwork Leads to Flood Recovery Challenges in East Baton Rouge Neighborhood

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 9:36 am

When the flood waters rose in August, one zip code experienced some of the worst damage in East Baton Rouge. New Byrd Station, 70805. This neighborhood, like many, is still trying to recover - but as Wallis Watkins reports, residents are facing some unique challenges.

Walking around New Byrd Station with Glenda Brown, you'll hear lots of encounters like this one: "Hey, how you doing? Alright. Wait a minute, you related to Emma Jean? Really? I remember when you were little little little."

She grew up in the north Baton Rouge neighborhood and still knows just about everybody there. "Well those that I didn’t know before, they came through the church - cause I’ll ask 'well where do you do live?' And they’ll tell me and I’m like, wait a minute, 'Oh you’re in Scotty's house' or something like that."

Those who live there simply call it Byrd Station. Many of the houses have belonged to families through generations.

"Everybody knew everybody. It was the type of community, if one family hurting, everyone else joined in to help it," Brown says. "That’s how it was."

In August, just about every one of the neighborhood’s hundred and sixty homes flooded. "Everybody wants it to heal. They want to restore their neighborhood. They want to make it better. The only thing they're doing is asking for help."

And that’s where Glenda comes in. Every week since January, she’s sat down in an office at Gloryland Baptist Church, just down the street. When neighbors have questions about contractors or plumbers, surveys or FEMA, they go to Glenda.

Every now and then, Glenda drives around the neighborhood to look at the work that’s being done. Before the flood, she says only a handful of the homes were vacant. Now, it’s closer to half.

"This house is not, they’re not back. They're in, they still have work to do," Glenda observes. "This house is empty. This house still needs work to do, as well as this one."

A neighbor, T.D. Neldare, sits on his front porch while the finish on his new wood floors dries.

Glenda Brown greets her neighbor. "Neldare - wait a minute, I gotta move, I don’t want to bring mud in your house." Brown points to the abandoned home next door, "Now this is one of the houses that's going to be torn down."

Neldare's house is a strong contrast to that. He's one of the few on his street back in his home. It belonged to his wife's grandmother, who they called Dea. When she passed away three years ago, she left it to them.

"This is like our grandparents generation. Most of these people were able to buy these houses 60 years or so ago," Neldare says. "They worked hard, paid them off and of course they would leave them to the kids. A lot of them, the paperwork is not straight."

Glenda says that's one of the biggest problems the neighborhood is facing. To qualify for the state's homeowner program, you must have owned the home and been living in it at the time of the flood. But for many living in these family homes without the proper paperwork, it's hard to prove that status.

"And let's face it, a lot of people in this neighborhood, nobody considered succession, because it's a family home. It just happens," Brown says.

That’s something New Byrd Station has to start thinking about, so Glenda Brown is organizing legal help for families to get the paperwork in order.

The fact that generations of families have grown up in this neighborhood is something residents like Neldare are proud of. "We have a special interest in this house because it is an heir house," he said. "We want Dea looking down and smiling but a lot of people in that situation, they just don’t have the money or the finances to do it."

That makes recovery particularly difficult in an underserved community like New Byrd Station. Well before the flood, Glenda says it's a place where they've always had to take care of themselves. "People need help. That's all. They're forgotten. I don't think people realize that this neighborhood is here," she said.

So it's no surprise that when the water moved out, Glenda came in.

This story was made possible by the Louisiana Public Radio Partnership, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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