FEMA to pro­vide tem­po­rary home fixes for Florence vic­tims

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY MARTHA QUILLIN [email protected]­sob­server.com

Fac­ing a se­vere hous­ing short­age that has left Hur­ri­cane Florence sur­vivors liv­ing in ho­tels or crash­ing with friends and rel­a­tives, North Carolina will be­gin us­ing a new FEMA pro­gram by De­cem­ber to make tem­po­rary, ba­sic re­pairs so some res­i­dents can move home.

The STEP pro­gram – Shel­ter­ing and Tem­po­rary Es­sen­tial Power – was launched af­ter Hur­ri­cane Sandy left many of homes and apart­ments un­liv­able in New Jer­sey and New York in Oc­to­ber 2012. Lack­ing avail­able hous­ing for storm vic­tims to move into, the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency be­gan pay­ing for es­sen­tial re­pairs that could makes homes “safe, san­i­tary and se­cure,” meet­ing the agency’s min­i­mum stan­dards.

STEP was also used in Texas and Louisiana af­ter hur­ri­canes hit those states.

Ex­perts say the pro­gram amounts to hav­ing peo­ple shel­ter in place. While it can’t re­store a home to its pre-hur­ri­cane com­fort level, it can get peo­ple back into fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings while they wait for re­pairs to be fin­ished.

“It’s not go­ing to make the house com­plete,” said Joe Stan­ton, who over­sees dis­as­ter as­sis­tance pro­grams as as­sis­tant direc­tor of the N.C. Di­vi­sion of Emer­gency Man­age­ment. “It’s not de­signed to be ex­trav­a­gant.”

But when peo­ple are re­cov­er­ing from a dis­as­ter, it can help to be back among neigh­bors and close to jobs, the gro­cery store, doc­tors, church and other in­sti­tu­tions that peo­ple are ac­cus­tomed to.

The state an­tic­i­pates mak­ing tem­po­rary re­pairs to as many as 1,000 homes through the pro­gram. Statewide, own­ers have claimed at least 95,000 homes were dam­aged by the Septem­ber storm.

For the past few weeks, the state has been work­ing with the N.C. Bap­tists on Mis­sion to de­velop a model for how STEP will work in North Carolina. Bill Martin, co­or­di­na­tor of the Bap­tist re­build­ing ef­fort af­ter Florence, has been run­ning the num­bers for dif­fer­ent kinds of re­pairs on a house the group has been re­build­ing on Church Street in Lum­ber­ton.

The small brick home, owned by a wo­man in her late 70s or early 80s, Martin said, was flooded by Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Oc­to­ber 2016. Vol­un­teers had nearly fin­ished re­build­ing it when it was flooded again by Florence.

The wa­ter was less than a foot deep, but it was enough to ruin the floor­ing the group had in­stalled all over the house, along with kitchen and bath­room cab­i­netry and the dry­wall from the floor to about 18 inches above it.

Martin said the group will make min­i­mum re­pairs to make the house safe for the owner to move back in, and then will come back and fin­ish the house later.

“She’s fine with it,” Martin said of the tem­po­rary fixes, which in­clude one kitchen cabi­net and a small amount of work space. For now, floors will be sheathed in wood but not tiled or car­peted.

“She just wants to get back in her house.”

Stan­ton said the state and FEMA hope to work out the fi­nal de­tails by late Novem­ber. But gen­er­ally, the pro­gram will work like this:

It will be of­fered to

● home­own­ers in 12 of the 34 N.C. coun­ties de­clared dis­as­ters as a re­sult of Hur­ri­cane Florence. They are: Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Colum­bus, Craven, Cum­ber­land, Du­plin, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pen­der and Robe­son.

STEP is aimed at

homes that re­ceived rel­a­tively lit­tle dam­age from the storm: gen­er­ally, less than a foot of wa­ter in­side, for ex­am­ple. The most that would be spent on tem­po­rary re­pairs for any one home would be about $17,000.

To be el­i­gi­ble, home

own­ers must reg­is­ter with FEMA at dis­as­teras­sis­tance.gov, by call­ing 800621-3361 or by vis­it­ing a FEMA Dis­as­ter Re­cov­ery Cen­ter. Home­own­ers must agree to the terms of the pro­gram, which in­clude that they will no longer be el­i­gi­ble to stay in FEMA travel trail­ers or man­u­fac­tured homes, or for FEMA-paid ho­tel rooms.

Re­pairs es­ti­mated at

about $8,000 or less will be made by a non­profit such as the N.C. Bap­tists on Mis­sion, which uses vol­un­teer la­bor to re­build dis­as­ter-dam­aged homes. Ma­te­ri­als would be paid for by the pro­gram. Home­own­ers us­ing non­prof­its can en­ter into an agree­ment in which the vol­un­teers will later re­turn to fin­ish the re­pairs.

Re­pairs es­ti­mated at

$8,000 to about $17,000 will be made by con­trac­tors who will com­pete for the work.

STEP will likely oper

ate for six months and may be ex­tended by FEMA de­pend­ing on the need.

STEP op­er­ates as a

fed­eral re­im­burse­ment pro­gram. The state pays for the re­pairs and ap­plies to FEMA for re­im­burse­ment of 75 per­cent of the cost.

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