It sounds like a simple request, but the reality is that it’s been anything but for Norco’s Alia Gonzales.
“I just want to rebuild my life,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales, her husband and their 13-year-old son recently watched as their home was demolished, part of that rebuilding process after Hurricane Ida rendered the residence – one the family had just renovated after purchasing a few years ago – a total loss. Three trees fell atop the house, their limbs through every room in the home. While Gonzales says she is grateful the family was able to evacuate and avoid unthinkable harm had they stayed, months of stress have accumulated due to what’s been a mostly futile attempt to garner financial aid.
“I got on the phone with FEMA right away, and they said, ‘Oh, we can send you to Dallas,’” Gonzales recounted of the days following the storm. “Well, we can’t do that. We have to stay here – my husband has to work and I have to get started on insurance and everything else … ‘Well, we can’t help you.’”
With nowhere to go, the family stayed with a neighbor for two weeks. Attempts to secure a trailer to live in via FEMA dragged, and the couple made the decision to purchase a trailer themselves.
“I knew (their neighbor) wanted her house back. So, it’s like, how long are we going to wait? We need a roof over our head, and we can’t stay here much longer.”
That temporarily solution secured, other problems needed to be addressed. The family’s home insurance would pay what the home was worth, but that garnered approximately half of what the cost would be to demolish and rebuild the home, and it was not a cost they could afford.
That left them with more pleas to FEMA, but Gonzales said she’s gotten the runaround for months.
“They deny, deny, deny,” Gonzales said. “Finally, they told me, ‘Well, you’ll need a FEMA inspector to come out.’ And yes, please, that’s what we’ve wanted for weeks and weeks.”
She said the inspector came out and, after two hours, told them the high likelihood was they would be denied assistance, but to continue appealing. According to Gonzales, FEMA said the issue at hand is it will not duplicate insurance benefits. She added that contrasts with paperwork she received from the inspector, which stated one may be eligible for FEMA assistance if their insurance settlement does not cover all of their disaster needs, but said FEMA claimed that paperwork was not official via the agency.
Thus far, Gonzales said the family has not received a dime of FEMA assistance.
Months of lobbying in vain led the family to go public with their grievance. After a segment highlighting their plight was featured on FOX8, a FEMA agent in Washington, D.C. reached out to her and indicated assistance could be possible, but she would have to make a stronger case and specifically prove that the home needed to be demolished.
“So, the damage report, your inspector, none of that is enough to prove we needed to have it demolished?” Gonzales said. “They said they can’t go by pictures. So, what was the point of the inspector? We had three trees on top of our roof, in front of the house. If that house comes down, then the tree is coming down there right by the trailer.
“I’m trying to give them what they want. But they ask for the same things, over and over and over. Appeal letter, insurance settlement letter, copy of check. This is what I have. This is it. I’ve done it five times already … the information doesn’t change.”
She said she was also asked why the family elected to demolish the home so soon.
“We’re almost five months later,” she said.
Gonzales said she is waiting to hear back about an SBA loan, and believes that will come through. But she added the family will be in for some tough times ahead, regardless.
“We’re gonna struggle … we’re not rich,” said Gonzales, a teacher in Jefferson Parish, while her husband is a delivery driver. “We bought a house we could afford. We can’t afford to pay $300,000 for a house, and it’s not that easy to just pick up and go somewhere else.”
The Gonzales family set up a GoFundMe (titled “Help the Gonzales family rebuild our home”) in hopes of finding some financial relief.
It’s all been a cumbersome burden that has followed the family into the new year after a very trying 2021. Last year, Gonzales’ mother passed away, while her husband nearly lost his mother after the latter suffered a heart attack. Their home was destroyed and their lives were thrown into limbo.
“2021 was an extremely hard year for us,” Gonzales said.