Homeowners Still Without FEMA Funding More Than 4 Years After The Storms
ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) – It has been more than four years since the storms of January 2017 ravaged parts of southwestern Georgia and forever changed several communities and some homeowners are still waiting for salvage money.
They told WALB Investigates it was a financial burden having to pay for their damaged home, in addition to the one they currently live in.
Chris Reetz is a resident of Dougherty County who applied to FEMA’s Risk Mitigation Grants Program.
Reetz drove through his once bustling Radium Springs neighborhood, which is now lined with vacant homes, to explore the damage.
“The house is totally in ruins,” Reetz said, pointing to his former neighbor’s house. “She had trees in the yard and everyone came to the door and we had to do our best to get her and her daughter out of the house. Something has to be done. We have 30 families awaiting this FEMA / GEMA buyout and we really haven’t heard anything.
Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy said the program involves acquiring, demolishing and returning the properties to green space. The cost is around $ 5 million, with federal funding paying for the majority.
McCoy said FEMA did not give out any awards.
Reetz said having vacant and damaged properties is a danger to the safety of the neighborhood. She has relocated her son to the house after suffering several burglaries and it is a financial burden.
“You know, because financially, having a new house and paying for electricity and everything in that house, I mean, we can’t afford it,” Reetz said.
Reetz was able to make some repairs thanks to his insurance. She said she spoke to people at the county and city level, but said she couldn’t get straight answers.
“We kept getting promises and then every year nothing happened. It would be nice if we got a phone call let us know what’s going on, ”Reetz said.
Reetz said he was recently told to expect funds this fall.
To help get clear answers, Reetz teamed up with his former neighbor, Xavier Bailey.
“When you contact the local government, they say they’re waiting for GEMA. You would contact GEMA and they would indicate that you know, they are waiting for the local government to provide photos. Eventually if you keep calling they have a chat and pictures are acquired and then again it comes back to a sort of unanswered waiting period, ”Bailey explained.
Bailey now lives in Atlanta because his property is totally uninhabitable.
“We still have the mortgage on this house and you know we’re paying to rent somewhere else because you’re kind of tied to this house until you can find a way out of it,” Bailey said.
Bailey also contacted the office of the representative of Sanford Bishop, as well as the president and vice president of the United States.
Trying to get a better idea of the county’s role in the grant process and timing, we found Georgia Collier-Bolling, director of disaster recovery and grant programs for Dougherty County. WALB Investigates has contacted the county’s public information officer to coordinate an interview with Bolling on several occasions, dating back to March of this year. She said on July 15 that she was awaiting a response from the grant person.
Meanwhile, there have been many updates to the Radium Springs area, including an ongoing renovation project at Radium Springs Garden.
Bailey said it was a shame he lost the property in such a beautiful location.
“The house sits on the shore of Skywater Creek which is fed by Radium Springs which is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. You could really see the fish from the window. It was truly a gem. And recently, the neighborhood’s infrastructure has also been modernized and revitalized, ”Bailey said.
“They repaired the park, they dredged the stream, that’s fine. But when you come here and actually live here, and then you have to go out and see all these houses, you constantly remember that day and it’s depressing, ”Reetz said.
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