It has been a frustrating two and a half years as residents who lost their homes to Hurricane Matthew floodwaters have struggled to rebuild as they waited on federal and state assistance, said David Harris of RMS Harris Associates.
However, there was good news last week — the county received a commitment for State Acquisition Relocation Funds or gap money, basically a moving allowance for families, Harris told Wayne County commissioners during their Tuesday meeting.
The program provides up to $50,000 in gap funds for the homeowners to pay the difference between their flood-damaged home to be acquired through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (buyout program) and the cost of a comparable replacement home outside the 100-year flood plain.
Harris’ firm manages the buyout program for the county.
“Now the (buyout) offers that go out will contain the full package of assistance they are eligible for,” Harris said. “I can tell you it just took a while between the wet part of January and February for them to get out there. I will say this, 100% of the field work has been done for the surveys, but now they have to get their plats in. A hundred percent of the inspections have been made by the appraisers, and now it is just a matter of we have to get their reports in.
“We started making offers and then held up a little bit because we sent in the county’s application for SARF, and I realized we were making commitments on the buyout knowing people were going to be purchasing replacement homes for more than the buyout amount, and we have no way of ensuring that they were going to be eligible to get it.”
The county wanted all of the money in place and not just pieces of it in terms of a formal offer, Harris said.
The agreement and guidelines are finally in, and everyone is going to be eligible, he said. A month ago not everyone was eligible because initially there had been an income component. State Emergency Management stood its ground to get that taken care of, he said.
“Unless you were low-to-moderate income, you couldn’t qualify,” he said. “The buyout, the objective is mitigation. It is to eliminate the potential for damage and that sort of stuff for people, property, the whole works.”
Some people have already purchased new homes, Harris said.
The original guidelines said that anyone who had done so prior to getting information on SARF would not be eligible for the program, he said.
That would be the kiss of death for a lot of people, Harris said.
That has been resolved in the contract provided to the county, he said.
North Carolina Emergency Management took it a step further, Harris said.
“Let me just say, there is always finger-pointing in these programs,” he said. “It has been too long, Two and a half years is just not acceptable, and even during the process there are these bumps in the road, these hurdles, in some cases solid walls that are hard to bust through and deal with. But the SARF program the state has come up with is better than any that I have seen since Hurricane Floyd (in 1999).
“It literally provides assistance all the way through the gamut. For those people who had already bought a replacement home, they may not need the gap money because the house they bought was similar to that one. They still get moving allowances. They still get reimbursed for closing costs. All we need is a copy of their opening and closing statement, and we can write them a check.”
That will be done when the damaged property is acquired, he said.
It is also a moving allowance, even for those who have already moved into their home, Harris said.
“Is all of this going to be worth the wait? No,” he said. “Nothing will make up for those two and a half years. But it is going to get the people back to their normal existence — take all of this debt, take all of his aggravation and so forth off of them and really provide the assistance in the categories where they are needed.
“Now that we have all of the tools in the toolbox to do that with, we can make commitments on people, and they are going to be ready to move. In fact, now that we have given people an indication of what those numbers are, now they are looking at building because they have the money, we have the time in the program for them to do that. They’ll get that SARF money when their house is constructed just like we would at regular closing.”
It is just going to open up a lot more avenues for these families, he said.
“It took until last week to get us all of the tools in the toolbox, and we are excited about it now that the commitments are going out,” Harris said.
More than 200 Wayne County households applied for the buyout program of which 84 parcels were approved. Nine parcels in Seven Springs have been delayed for historic review while eight other applications were pulled from the program by the owners.
Through the end of March the acquisition process is underway for all 67 parcels under consideration, Harris said.
All appraisal, surveys and title searches have been assigned, and 60 title options, 55 appraisal reports and 31 surveys have been completed.
Offers to purchase have been made on 13 properties, seven of which have been accepted. Three closings are scheduled. One owner is getting a separate appraisal.