Years after 2015 floods, nearly 200 Columbia homeowners wait on disaster relief

More than 5 years after unprecedented flooding broken their properties, some Columbia residents are nonetheless ready on public funds that have been put aside to assist them restore or rebuild.

After the October 2015 flood, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the City of Columbia greater than $26 million for varied restoration efforts, together with greater than $13.5 million focused at low-income homeowners whose properties have been broken, in accordance with a latest progress report on the grant.

From April 2017 to October 2018, 454 Columbia homeowners utilized for assist by the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief, or CDBG-DR, program, in accordance with Gloria Saeed, director of Columbia’s Community Development Department.

Since then, 49 candidates have had their initiatives accomplished and 207 functions have been discarded for varied causes equivalent to failing to fulfill the earnings necessities, failing to offer the mandatory documentation and promoting their property. The metropolis didn’t present a breakdown of what number of candidates have been discarded for every motive.

The remaining 198 are caught in limbo, nonetheless ready to listen to whether or not they have been accepted.

The metropolis has till December 2022 to spend greater than $7.eight million allotted to assist homeowners in want.

City officers say they’re on monitor to fulfill the deadline. Earlier this yr, the town took steps to extend this system’s effectivity, together with bringing on a brand new contractor to assist administer the funds.

But for some, these assurances are too late.

Elnora Jones spent the final three years of her life ready to maneuver again dwelling. In 2015, the octogenarian was compelled to desert the home the place she had spent the majority of her life after it sustained extreme water injury from the flood.

Jones’ daughter, Deborah Coleman, helped her mom apply for the disaster relief funding in 2017. But virtually a yr later, Jones died earlier than receiving a solution.

Now Coleman is uncertain if the applying continues to be being thought-about as a result of it was submitted in her mom’s title.

“That house has been sealed up for years,” she mentioned. “I don’t want to be stuck with a house that’s falling apart but I can’t fix it on my own.”

The metropolis, citing privateness issues, declined to debate particular person instances.

Other candidates, like 93-year-old Robert Hipps, have had no selection however to stay of their flood-damaged properties and endure substandard dwelling situations.

The home — which is in a low-lying space and had earlier basis points — suffered some water injury previous to the flood.

But since 2015, the issues have gotten exponentially worse with every rainfall, in accordance with Hipps’ son Robert. The yard is totally waterlogged. There’s mildew rising in varied nooks and crannies the place rain has seeped in. The floorboards have change into sloped and uneven.

“We can’t even walk in certain parts of the house because we’re afraid we might fall through,” Kerwin Hipps mentioned.

When he helped his father apply for this system again in 2017, Hipps mentioned, he was hopeful. But after spending years ready to seek out out if and when repairs is perhaps made, his religion has begun to waver.

“They always promise they’re going to do this or that but nothing ever gets fixed,” he mentioned. “Something has to change. We are tired of living like this.”

The most up-to-date correspondence his household acquired was in February, when Columbia’s Community Development Department despatched a letter to all remaining candidates informing them {that a} new program administration firm referred to as ICF had been introduced on.

Initially, the town had contracted with an organization referred to as Landmark Consulting to manage each the CDBG-DR funds in addition to a separate grant from the Federal Emergency Management Association that paid for main infrastructure initiatives. City Manager Teresa Wilson mentioned she determined in September 2020 to seek for a further program administration firm that might take over for Landmark in administering CDBG-DR.

“Landmark took the program as far as they could take it,” she mentioned. “We are at a different phase of the program now that requires a different skill set and focus on construction management and rehabilitation. I remain committed to the citizens of Columbia to provide them the expertise they need in this phase of the program.”

Landmark continues to manage the FEMA grant. A spokesperson from Landmark declined to remark and deferred to the town.

Wilson mentioned she understood residents’ frustrations with the tempo of this system however famous that the town needed to be “extraordinarily careful” to be able to adjust to the foundations put in place by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Columbia isn’t the one place that has confronted challenges in getting this funding out.

A report last month from the U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that as of April 2021, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had spent solely 5 % of the greater than $31 billion out there to answer varied 2017 hurricanes.

The report mentioned points in how the CDBG-DR program is structured on the federal degree have created “a time-consuming process” that’s susceptible to fraud dangers.

Deborah Watts, who utilized for this system in 2017, mentioned she understands Columbia officers’ want to be thorough, however their lack of urgency is “hurting the people they’re supposed to be helping.”

Watts lives in Greenview, a neighborhood in Northeast Columbia with a big inhabitants of Black senior residents whose properties have been handed down by generations.

The State interviewed 5 Greenview residents — together with Watts and Hipps — who all say they utilized for CDBG-DR funding however don’t know in the event that they’ve been accepted.

Watts mentioned she and different residents love their neighborhood, and that they wish to see the town make investments extra time and sources into making enhancements.

“People here can’t afford to just move out or bring things up to standard on their own. But if everyone here got that money, it would really mean a lot for this place.”

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