Dozens Of Homeowners Looking For FEMA Buyouts
12/15/11 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) An unprecedented number of Vermont homeowners are interested in having the federal government buy their houses damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.
As VPR's Steve Zind reports the buyout program is designed get homes out of flood prone areas.
(Zind) FEMA's Hazard Mitigation program has been around for a long time. In the past it's been used mostly to pay for repairs and improvements to municipal property like roads and bridges.
But this time around there's a lot of interest in the part of the program that provides buyouts for homes damaged by Irene.
Though FEMA funds it, the buyout program is administered by the state.
Ray Doherty is Vermont's Hazard Mitigation Officer. Doherty says it appears dozens of homeowners hope FEMA will buy them out.
(Doherty) "It's a fairly significant number."
(Zind) Homeowners don't directly apply the buyouts. Their towns apply on their behalf. Then, if the application is approved, FEMA pays up to 75 percent of a home's pre-flood value, turning the property over to the town, with the understanding that it won't be developed again.
Doherty says the process for calculating which homes qualify and how much buyout money the owner could receive is an involved one. In some cases towns are deciding not to apply because the process is so complex.
(Doherty) "Unfortunately it is. These are all FEMA's rules, not the state's rules, and they require a fairly healthy amount of documentation."
(Braun) "It's really complicated!"
(Zind) That's Michelle Braun, the zoning administrator for Northfield.
She's talking with 14 Northfield homeowners interested in being bought out.
Because the FEMA amount is limited to 75 percent of the home's value, Northfield and other towns are working with the state to find grant money to make up the rest.
(Braun) "The state is doing a terrific job of thinking creatively about where that 25 percent could come from, because the more match that we can find, the higher level of compensation we can give to property owners."
(Zind) Ultimately the property approved for buyout will be turned over to the town. In Northfield's case, it could create a long strip of green space along the Dog River where ruined houses now stand. The town could convert it to recreational uses.
(Braun) "It would be nice to have a playground. They could have a skating rink in the winter, or a dog park, or a community garden."
(Zind) Towns have two opportunities to apply for the mitigation program. The first round deadline is January 20th. A second round extends into March.
The buyout program is competitive, and Hazard Mitigation Officer Ray Doherty points out that not of the all applications will be approved.
For VPR News, I'm Steve Zind.