Montpelier could host 36 FEMA trailers for flood survivors on city-owned property
Thirty-six families displaced by the July floods may soon be taking up residence on a 138-acre parcel of land owned by the city of Montpelier.
The Montpelier City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday evening to a plan that would see FEMA set up 36 mobile homes on what used to be a golf course and events center about two miles outside the downtown.
The decision comes as state and federal officials race to find housing options for displaced Vermonters before cold weather sets in this fall.
“We are very concerned that people won’t have a place to live before the winter comes,” said Douglas Farnham, who was tapped by Gov. Phil Scott to serve as the state’s chief flood recovery officer. “And obviously even at a best clip this would going in maybe just in time for winter.”
"This could be one of those things where we provide necessary housing to people who are without housing right now because of the flood, but also set ourselves up for a housing project of the future.”Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser
The city purchased the land and buildings from the Elks Club for $2 million last year, with the goal of using the open space to boost its own supply of local affordable housing. Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser told councilors Wednesday that infrastructure improvements FEMA will need to make in order to create the temporary housing site — including extending water and utility lines — would effectively subsidize the city’s longer-term housing goals.
“You know, this could be one of those things where we provide necessary housing to people who are without housing right now because of the flood, but also set ourselves up for a housing project of the future,” he said.
About 200 displaced Vermonters quality for direct housing supports from FEMA. According to Will Roy, head of FEMA operations in Vermont, about 60 have requested that aid. Roy said his agency has struggled to find existing residential units to use as temporary housing. And as days get shorter and temperatures cool, Roy said the need to find alternative housing options is becoming urgent.
Vermont remains in a state of emergency from the July floods, and Farnham said the governor is willing to use his emergency powers to fast-track the permitting process needed to get units habitable as soon as possible.
“It’s a direct result of the flood, it’s directly related to immediate life safety, so I do we would go through and work with the city and work with FEMA, and we would try to remove as many barriers as we could reasonably remove,” Farnham said. “We don’t want to abuse the powers, but we do think that this is a situation that if Montpelier is on board with this, it merits a lot of urgency.”
City councilors appear to be on board. Wednesday’s motion passed unanimously, and City Councilor Lauren Hierl said allowing flood survivors to live on city property “is the right thing to do.”
Farnham said the majority of the households that would be living in the FEMA trailers are Berlin residents whose mobile homes were condemned. He said the state is also looking for temporary housing sites in Lamoille and Windsor counties.
Fraser said residents would continue to be able to use the property for soccer, skiing, walking and other recreational purposes. And he said the trailers would not necessarily interfere with construction on city-led housing projects in the meantime.
An existing building on the property — formerly an events space for the Elks Club — will be converted into a 15- to 20-bed emergency shelter this winter by the Good Samaritan Haven. Rick D’Angelis, executive director the organization, said the FEMA housing would complement Good Samaritan’s mission.
“These are people that don’t have housing and they’re not going to need our shelter, so that’s a good thing,” he said.
D’Angelis said he was also pleased to hear that FEMA would be providing its own security for the mobile home park.
“I think we can peacefully coexist with the FEMA development,” he said.
The motion approved by the City Council on Wednesday authorizes Fraser to draft a contract with FEMA on the city’s behalf. The council still has final authority on whether or not to enter into that contract.
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