Philanthropic fund to provide 'last resort grants' to housing insecure flood survivors
As concerns mount for the hundreds of Vermonters whose homes still aren’t repaired from the summer floods, the state is launching a new disaster case management system as a “last resort” for displaced survivors.
FEMA is set to begin construction this month on a temporary housing complex in Montpelier on a piece of city-owned land about two miles outside the downtown. The project will provide about 20 trailers for families whose homes suffered severe flood damage in July.
State and local officials, however, say those households represent a small fraction of the Vermonters who are now experiencing varying degrees of housing insecurity due to flood damage. Sue Minter, executive director of Capstone Community Action, told Vermont Public that “hundreds” of families’ residences still aren’t suitable for winter occupancy.
“They may be still living in the shell of a home, some of which insulation … was ripped out because they wanted to make sure there was no mold, or they’re living with mold that is growing, but they don’t have a power system that is functional to stay warm,” Minter said.
“Essentially, the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund is there to help pay for the needs of these cases that are very far from adequate at the moment for safe and secure housing."Sue Minter, Capstone Community Action
State and federal officials say some flood survivors are living with family and friends. Close to three dozen are staying in motels and hotels as part of the same program Vermont uses to provide shelter for unhoused Vermonters.
Doug Farnham, chief flood recovery officer for the state of Vermont, said the guidelines FEMA uses to determine whether someone is eligible for a government-issued trailer don’t hinge solely on whether or not their house is habitable. He told Vermont Public that those eligibility guidelines can disadvantage individuals who live in structures that didn’t have a lot of fair market value before the flood.
“FEMA’s assessment of damage, it is a financial calculation, right?” Farnham said. “And mobile homes, manufactured homes, generally are assigned less value, and that results in fewer members of residents of manufactured homes qualifying for FEMA’s program.”
Research has shown that lower-income people who live in lower-cost housing are likeliest to experience the most severe consequences from flooding events that we saw in July.
Minter said many survivors’ recovery efforts have been hampered by the fact that their flood-damaged residences were rented apartments. People who don’t own the home they live in aren’t generally eligible for individual assistance, which is the money FEMA would otherwise give people to do the remediation and repairs they needed to get their home habitable.
In order to address the unmet needs, the state has applied to FEMA for a “Disaster Case Management” grant. Under the program, FEMA will provide the funding needed to hire about 10 case managers in Washington, Lamoille and Windsor counties.
Capstone Community Action will administer that grant program on the state’s behalf. Minter said the organization posted the jobs late last month and hopes to have case managers in place by December.
She said case managers will coordinate with all-volunteer “long-term recovery groups” that have been working with flood survivors over the past four months. Those recovery groups will serve as eyes and ears in the community, according to Minter, and connect case managers with households that need disaster recovery aid.
“The vision of this program, and the way it worked after Irene, is that there are individual case managers who actually work with long-term recovery groups to determine the needs,” Minter said.
Case managers will solicit estimates from contractors and calculate the amount of money a family needs for repairs. While FEMA is providing funding to hire case managers, the federal agency will not allocate money needed to perform needed repairs.
Minter and Farnham said a philanthropic fund that sprang up after Irene — called the Vermont Disaster Recovery Fund — is being rebooted to provide aid to survivors of the summer floods.
“Essentially, the Vermont Disaster Fund is there to help pay for the needs of these cases that are very far from adequate at the moment for safe and secure housing,” Minter said.
Farnham said the “last-resort grants” will serve as a “last line of defense” for survivors who have exhausted their federal assistance options but still have unmet needs.
Farnham told lawmakers this week that the fund currently has $2.4 million. Officials involved with the recovery fund say they hope to raise a total of $6 million to meet anticipated needs.
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