Declining populations in Ida-stricken parishes due in part to insurance, rebuilding costs

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 4:46 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - St. John Parish residents expressed little surprise that their community suffered the second-highest population loss in the United States, with four Louisiana parishes ranking in the bottom 10 for residents lost following Hurricane Ida’s landfall.

Belinda Laws, who took a year to rebuild her Laplace home, stated that she and many of her neighbors had to rebuild for the second time in 10 years due to flooding.

“If this happens again, if I flood again, I’m going to be part of the 5% or more than leave St John Parish,” said Laws.

Laws and many of her neighbors had to rebuild for the second time in 10 years due to flooding. Three neighbors on her block are gone.

“I’m not sure where they went,” said Laws.

“Every time a storm comes, we gut the house out. A lot of people are moving,” said Laplace resident Dan Simoneaux.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that St. John Parish suffered the greatest population loss of any parish or county in the country. Three other parishes in Louisiana, including Terrebonne, Plaquemines, and St. Charles, also ranked high for population loss.

More: Louisiana parishes among top in the U.S. for population loss

While high insurance and rebuilding costs are factors keeping many from coming back, St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard expressed concern about population decreases and questioned how to reverse the trend.

“It is always a concern when you see population decreases. It’s how do you undo the trend?” said St. John Parish President Jaclyn Hotard.

Governor John Bel Edwards said that they have appropriated $45 million to the Insure Louisiana fund to address the insurance crisis, with builders expressing optimism that the new west shore levee and improved building standards may lower insurance costs.

“We have a crisis, but we have appropriated $45 million to the Insure Louisiana fund, and we’ve had nine extra companies that expressed interest in those dollars to the amount that exceeded what was available by $17 million,” said Governor John Bel Edwards.

More: Donelon expects insurers approved for incentives to receive state funds soon

Nonetheless, Hurricane-weary residents are still anxiously waiting for the levee’s completion.

“This time if it happens again, I can’t do it again,” said Laws.

Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.), says he and others are trying to get FEMA to set lower flood insurance rates, but he says population loss has a lot to do with government policies.

“States that are gaining right now have zero income tax, and those that are losing population have a higher income tax,” said Scalise.

Though many St. John Parish neighborhoods still contain damaged homes, improvements are evident.

“We still have a lot of work that needs to be done but much of the progress is very visible,” said Hotard.

Hurricane-weary residents like Laws anxiously await completion of the 18-mile, $760 million west shore protection levee. That new levee is expected to be completed next year.

“I’m just praying, with hurricane season coming up again, we don’t have this problem,” said Laws.

The governor believes the number of severe hurricanes in the past few years is the main cause of the insurance crisis in Louisiana.

“I’m reserving judgment on whether or not we should have an appointed insurance commissioner. Obviously, we do have an insurance crisis in Louisiana. It is because of the number of very severe hurricanes we’ve had over the last few years,” Gov. Edwards said.

Edwards says he supports an effort to put extra money into an insurance incentive fund to lure in more companies and hopefully lower insurance costs.

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