City moves ahead with flood-area buyout plan

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 18, 2005

Ward Three homeowners whose property floods during periods ofheavy rains expressed interest Thursday in a state program thatwould allow them to sell their homes to the city and move out ofthe flood-prone area.

Tonia Daniels, of 122 Saint George St., said she is ready tomove now. Her home, next to a large drainage ditch under thestreet, floods frequently when it rains.

“I’m tired of it. I have been for a long time,” said Daniels,adding that she calls 911 often when it rains. “I’m scared I mightwake up with a snake in my bed.”

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Daniels was among five homeowners who met with city officials andgrant consultant Woody Sample during a meeting Thursday evening atthe government complex.

Officials had identified about 10 homeowners who could benefit fromthe home buyout program, but Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson saidthose not in attendance last night were not interested. Cityofficials said they would proceed with the program to help thosewho are interested.

“We want to help you get out of a bad situation as quickly as wecan,” said Mayor Bob Massengill, adding that he would seek theboard of aldermen’s authority to move forward with a grantapplication at the March 1 meeting.

Under the Hazard Mitigation Grant program, funded by the FederalEmergency Management Agency and administered by the state,flood-prone homes are appraised and homeowners offered that amountto move out, Sample said. The homes are then razed and grass isplanted, converting the property to green space.

“That land cannot be used anymore for someone to put a house on,”Sample said.

The program is done on a 75 percent state-25 percent local matchbasis. In addition to home purchasing aspects, Sample said thereare provisions to provide relocation assistance to renters in caseswhere a property owner decides to sell.

Sample said the program is voluntary for homeowners and there is nonegotiation on the purchase price of the home. Responding toquestions, he said improvements done by homeowners could raise theappraised value of the homes and indicated that the city hoped tobe as generous as possible in determining a home’s value.

“We want that appraiser to give you all he can under the law,”Sample said.

Sample pointed out that no one is lining up to purchase homes inflood-prone areas. He said the program is one option to helpowners.

“We’re just trying to give you an opportunity to get out of a badsituation,” Sample said.

Massengill said it is not financially feasible for the city to tryto reroute water away from the area.

The mayor said the purpose of last night’s meeting was to gaugehomeowner interest in whether to proceed with the program.Following some preliminary phases, the city can obtain propertyappraisals.

“We weren’t going to do the appraisals until we found out if thereis an interest,” Massengill said.

Several homeowners last night said they had lost more in theirhomes than they could ever get back.

Lora Autmon, of 425 Center St., said her home had flooded ninetimes. With a fair offer from the city, she and others were hopefulthey could move out and move on.

“It sounds worthwhile,” Autmon said about the home buyout program.”I’m interested in it.”