Thursday, August 07, 2008

Did you volunteer for NOAH or did NOAH volunteer you?

This is a critical angle of the NOAH scandal for which I have had trouble getting concrete, reportable information. It is so helpful to have the Times-Picayune working on this.

The latest effort by Michelle Krupa is excellent and puts together some critical elements of this story to the general public:

It appears, however, that another crew has taken credit for demolition work at Grandpre's house. City records show that Hall & Hall Enterprises, the highest-paid contractor in Mayor Ray Nagin's home remediation program, billed the city $7,830 for gutting and boarding up the house and cutting the grass at the St. Anthony Street property.

The house is one of at least seven addresses that appear on two lists detailing post-storm remediation. One list belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response, which organized volunteers from across the country to come to New Orleans and provide free home remediation services, such as gutting and boarding up homes, to residents in need of help.

Those same addresses appear on a list produced by the nonprofit New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corp., which oversaw a remediation program that contractors billed a total of $1.8 million.


There's a problem with this report, however, and I'll explain.

When it became clear to me that volunteers had worked on some of these NOAH houses, there were three distinct scenarios that might account for their involvement.

First is that NOAH had selected properties to bill taxpayers for that had already been worked on my volunteers. This scenario implies that NOAH's seemingly random property selection process happened to also net a number of properties that had received volunteer services and that NOAH was just going around adding properties to their list with no intention of ever even checking whether or not a home needed gutting or boarding services. Also within his general scenario is the possibility that NOAH specifically chose properties they knew had already been worked on by volunteer groups. This implies that NOAH officials sought out lists of properties that they knew had already been worked on OR that officials from volunteer organizations had unwittingly, mistakenly, or intentionally provided their database of properties to city officials.

The second scenario is that NOAH was prepared to bill for a list of properties and contacted volunteer groups directly or through other city agencies to have them gut properties for which NOAH had already planned to pay contractors.

The third scenario is that volunteer organizations themselves sought out lists of homes that needed services from the city and NOAH officials ensured that some of their properties were provided to them.

Each of these scenarios allow for different degrees of complicity by volunteer organizations and officials with the Nagin administration. On one end, as I'd like to believe, nonprofit organizations were pillaged by city officials and volunteer labor was used to cover up NOAH's money laundering. At the other extreme, certain volunteer organizations or their leadership bears some degree of culpability for sharing lists with the city. For city officials, we face the possibility that officials throughout NORA and ORDA knew about NOAH and attempted to aid it in covering its tracks on one end or the possibility that Stacey Jackson and her staff specifically cultivated confusion and manipulated relationships under the radar of administration brass on the other.

So let's keep the volunteer scenarios in mind and take another look at Krupa's article:

Other groups that have provided free gutting services declined to share with The Times-Picayune the addresses to which they sent volunteers. The nonprofit Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now Inc., also known as ACORN, cited privacy concerns. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans cited a federal law that protects medical patients' rights and said it bars the release of such information.


That's problematic because Amanda Davis of the Episcopal Diocese disaster response office was willing to go into detail:

Davis said that while she was not aware of the duplications on the Episcopal Diocese's and NOAH's lists before this week, she long had harbored suspicions about the city's remediation program.

Touted as a centerpiece of Nagin's 2007 budget, the mayor said in late 2006 that he wanted the city to offer gutting services because faith-based and grass-roots groups providing such services had become overwhelmed.

That theory, Davis said, raised eyebrows in the tight-knit community of disaster recovery organizers.

"The idea of this program always seemed silly to us, because we have hundreds of volunteers each month," she said. "There's no reason to hire professional demolition crews to gut houses for old people."

Indeed, as the community nonprofit groups prepared in the spring and summer last year to receive thousands of unskilled volunteers, they were at a loss for properties. Several, including ACORN, a Catholic church group and the Episcopal Diocese program, solicited NOAH officials for some of their addresses, city officials have said.

"It was always kind of funny, though," Davis said. "We knew at the time that something weird was going on. They wouldn't e-mail the lists. You had to drive by City Hall and pick it up from somebody."


Now that's fascinating. According to Krupa, city officials are alleging that volunteer organizations specifically solicited NOAH officials for lists of properties. This after the NOAH home remediation program raised eyebrows throughout the volunteer community for being "silly."

Now Davis' organization seemed to make the same foolish mistake that ACORN and some Catholic charities made and will also have to go back into the books to provide more details. Who did they pick up their lists from? Why didn't they say anything even when they knew something weird was going on?

But what this really must do is force ACORN and the Archdiocese to open up and help us figure out how this occurred. I'm sorry but citing "privacy concerns" of homeowners that may have been fleeced for their tax dollars or of individual volunteers who may have been unwitting slaves for the city's money laundering scheme seems a little bit inappropriate. These organizations have every interest in completely examining their role in the NOAH scandal.

4 comments:

bayoustjohndavid said...

I wouldn't assume good faith on ACORN's part, I'm not saying that I'd assume dishonesty either, but if my own brother were head of both the local chapter of ACORN and the local SEIU and ACORN helped re-elect Nagin, I'd say, "O.K., the vote drive was a case of doing what was right, regardless of the likely outcome." However, if one of his organizations then become a recovery consultant and a real estate developer, that operated with public funding, I'd say to watch him as closely as any politician.

That said, I suspect Davis' recollection is slightly

"A handful of nonprofit agencies, including the community group ACORN and Catholic Charities, have gutted thousands of homes for low-income residents since last year. But with those groups reporting a backlog of as many as 5,000 houses in October, Nagin opted to include the service in his budget, which the City Council approved Dec. 1."

off

"Most of the organizations report they have waiting lists from one to six months long, but a few apparently are prepared to handle new requests quickly. Besides 15 groups still accepting applications, the city includes three other groups whose lists are so full they are not accepting applications at this time."

digdeeper said...

Not sure if this is relevant but what about a volunteer organization that has the SAME NAME as the city agency: NOAH?

This is an organization that has a budget of $5m to do the same thing that the New Orleans NOAH has been doing:

From their website:

http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=22806


"In New Orleans, NOAH volunteers to rebuild homes, churches
By Mickey Noah
Mar 8, 2006

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--Eight months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the people and landscape of New Orleans, a tidal wave of Southern Baptist volunteers is needed to help rebuild the historic city and surrounding areas.

North American Mission Board President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord announced a $5 million, two-year rebuilding project called Project NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope), which will use Southern Baptist volunteer labor to rehab more than 1,000 homes and 20 Baptist churches over the next two years. The program is slated to be up and running by the end of April.....

The $5 million earmarked from NAMB will cover about 60 percent of Project NOAH’s costs, with the remainder coming from volunteer fees of $15 per day, which will help defray the costs of lodging, meals and other volunteer support expenses.....

Baptist disaster relief volunteers already have contributed nearly 165,000 “volunteer days” in Katrina’s aftermath. Using a pay rate of $17 an hour for an eight-hour day, the labor value of Baptist volunteer relief work already exceeds $22 million, Burton said. He estimates the value of the in-kind contributions of volunteer labor needed for Project NOAH at more than $36 million.....

Southern Baptist churches interested in obtaining more information about sending Project NOAH teams may call 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6134, or (770) 410-6134, or go to www.TheBridge.NAMB.net.
--30--
Karen Willoughby of The Baptist Message contributed to this story."



What a coincidence, huh? Can you imagine this hypothetical conversation between an investigator and a homeowner on "the list"?

Investigator: "So, can you tell me if someone from Noah was here to work on your house?"

Homeowner: "Yes, they were very nice people."

Investigator: "Ok then, thanks."

Question that the investigator didn't know to ask: "Was this the Noah affilliated with the City of New Orleans, or the Noah affiliated with the Southern Baptist volunteer group?"

What a coincidence. In the meantime, the Southern Baptist Group has recently issued a disclaimer declaring their non-afiliation with the "other" Noah:

http://www.namb.net/site/c.9qKILUOzEpH/b.1711603/k.6B25/Operation_Noah_Rebuild.htm


"Baptist home rebuild ministry not associated with city program recently called into question

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention would like to clarify that its “Operation NOAH Rebuild” ministry is not in any way associated with the city-affiliated “NOAH” agency that has recently been accused of misspending tax dollars by allegedly charging for home repairs it never performed.

Since early 2006, more than 22,000 Southern Baptist volunteers have helped more than 1,350 families move back into their homes. This includes gutting 616 homes and completely rebuilding 144 homes. Southern Baptists are currently rebuilding more than 200 homes in the city. This ministry receives no funds from the city of New Orleans and volunteers cover their own travel and housing expenses.

A recent news account in the New Orleans media spotlighted alleged misspending of city and federal funds that were intended to help re-build homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The city-affiliated agency is called New Orleans Affordable Homeownership or “NOAH” for short.

The North American Mission Board is a Southern Baptist Convention agency that serves Southern Baptists in the areas of evangelism, church starting and missions mobilization in the United States, Canada and their territories. For more information visit www.namb.net"

I wonder if we can get a list of their 760 projects to cross reference and eliminate any possible confusion?

By the way, check out the author's name on the first article:

"By Mickey Noah" A triple coincidence.

What a world. God really does work in mysterious ways.

ng2000 said...

Valuable resource of volunteer news summaries: http://ng2000.com/ng2000bb/YaBB.pl?num=1221634947

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