One year after Sandy, block grants ready to help people rebuild
Government officials admitted the wheels of bureaucracy work slowly when they gathered Monday at Milford City Hall to announce the availability of new Storm Sandy repair dollars on this one-year anniversary of the superstorm.
A disaster recovery program intake center opened at the Parsons Government Center last week, one of several in the state, to help residents apply for part of a $30-million grant from the Storm Sandy Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Recovery Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation and Rebuilding Program.
Mayor Ben Blake, flanked by several city, state and federal officials at City Hall for a Monday press conference, said Sandy impacted 2,000 Milford properties and wreaked havoc along the city’s 17.5 miles of coastline last year.
Thousands of residents were displaced, and while most have returned by now to their homes, “far too many are still in the process of rebuilding,” he said.
Federal and other dollars have been available for some residents, and Blake said that in addition to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dollars, residents may look into historic preservation grants, which may be available to people in houses that are 50 years old or older.
But it was the block grant dollars that officials focused on Monday at City Hall.
“Our goal is to get repairs started and to get people in their homes as soon as possible,” said Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein.
So far, the state has received 72 applications from homeowners and two from businesses for the funds, Klein said. None of the funding has been released yet because of the lengthy approval process, but she said she believes that once completed applications are in, homeowners who qualify should get their money within three weeks.
The state Department of Housing has allocated $30 million in federal funding for the program to support efforts to rebuild and renovate homes while addressing needs to prepare for future storms. The program is geared toward residents who need to fill a gap in funding left after they’ve received insurance and other money toward their renovations.
So far, the city has issued 25 permits for people to elevate their homes, and another 25 for people who had to repair and elevate after Sandy. Milford recovery coordinator Bill Richards said there are still hundreds more who want to elevate their homes and are trying to piece together the financial puzzle to do that.
“This is the money that will get them started,” Richards said, explaining that insurance pays only for storm repairs and not elevating a home. If residents were told they had to elevate their homes before they could tackle repairs, they were stuck if they didn’t have the approximately $100,000 to lift the house.
The block grant funds will not pay for people to elevate their homes if they did not suffer storm damage. Klein said she believes the next infusion of dollars — an estimated $65 million to the state — will be available to pay for elevating a home that did not suffer substantial storm damage.
The grant award for each eligible property will range from $10,000 to $150,000. The state will contract with the homeowner and general contractor for the work. The assistance provided will be secured with a five-year Deferred Forgivable Promissory Note that bears no interest. If the homeowner sells, transfers or vacates the property for any period of time during the five years, the repayment terms will be enforced.
Anyone may apply for the block grant dollars. Half the grant needs to go to people who meet income guidelines, but the other 50% has no income restrictions, Klein said.
Gov. Dannel Malloy literally knocked on the wood of the podium at City Hall Monday and said, “Knock on wood that we’ll get through October without a major storm.”
He said the state is focusing on helping its residents get back in their homes and shoring up the state’s infrastructure.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro blamed Republicans in Congress for holding up the money by taking three months to approve a disaster relief plan, therefore making homeowners wait for aid.
“A three-month delay was significant,” DeLauro said.
The Milford Intake Center is available to help residents fill out and submit their applications. Staffed with three to five employees and a supervisor, the office will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The office will be closed on all federal holidays and the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It is expected to be open about four months.
There will also be mobile application intake units. Intake counselors will meet a person at home or another place of the applicant’s choosing.
Residents may call the program’s call center to schedule an appointment at the intake center. The call center is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The number to call to schedule an appointment or to get more information is 1-866-272-1976.
The online application is available at sandyctapplication.com/.
Milford homeowner, businesswoman and alderman Susan Shaw waited to talk to Klein after Monday’s press conference. She had a few questions, having gotten hit by Tropical Storm Irene and Sandy in her Point Beach home.
“People are waiting with two years of paperwork in boxes,” she said, expressing frustration over government paperwork and the long wait for assistance.
For information on historic preservation grants mentioned in this article, people may go to cultureandtourism.org or call Tom Ivers, Milford’s block grant coordinator, at 203-783-3230.