At times the people in McCown Auditorium Wednesday night seemed more interested in talking about why Hurricane Florence flooded their homes and how devastating the disaster has been for them than in talking about a FEMA buyout.
But City Administrator Adam Emrick and flood consultant Jeffrey Ward were able to get the flood victims back on the evening’s topic and that was FEMA buyouts.
Ward explained that the purpose of the buyout is not to put flood victims into their dream houses or even to put them back into homes as nice as they had.
Instead the purpose is to lessen future threats of flooding in an environmentally-friendly way.
The good news of the night is that some other cities across the state that did not spent all of their allotted funds in the Hurricane Matthew buyout returned their surplus funds to the state and state officials transferred them to Conway for the Florence buyout, so there is a larger pot of money now.
The total expected is about $11.3 million. Even more good news is that some Hurricane Florence victims can piggyback on the Hurricane Matthew buyout, so instead of having to wait two or three years for their money they can possibly collect in a few months.
But there’s more bad news in that the appraisals that the buyouts are based on will go back to a home’s appraised value before Hurricane Matthew.
Conwayite George Martin was unsure after the meeting if he wanted to take advantage of the buyout saying, “It all comes down to numbers.”
Martin said he had already signed up to get an appraisal of his property on Park Avenue Circle, but the final numbers will make his decision for him.
H.E. “Ki” Thompson Jr., who works with Thompson Appraisal Services, the company contracted by the City of Conway to do the appraisals, said his company has completed about 40 appraisals over the past two months.
Ninety-five percent of those were based on appraisals before Hurricane Matthew, which he says is difficult to determine now that many of the homes have flooded again and market values have changed since then.
He said a lot of the people have been pleased with the values they’ve been given, but some didn’t realize that the values go back two years.
His company has been asking flood victims for any pictures they might have of their property or copies of past appraisals, anything that can help them understand what their homes were like two years ago.
Richard Jordan, who owns a house he has been renting in recent years, says selling out looks like his best alternative even though he’s had an offer for his flooded home.
He worries if he restores his home that the future value of the house will be discounted by this flood.
Jordan said hurricanes Floyd and Matthew didn’t bother him, “but Florence ate me alive.”
Ward pointed out that only a few Matthew victims were moving toward buyouts before Hurricane Florence, but the recent flooding brought them back to reality.
“It was a devastating event and I watched it with a heavy heart,” he said.
Many Matthew victims thought it couldn’t happen again, but he pointed out that it can and will due to bigger storms that are moving slower.
To qualify for the buyouts, flood victims must live within the Conway city limits. That discouraged one Lee’s Landing resident who said floodwater destroyed his idyllic river home and property by rising two feet above his six-foot elevation.
To qualify, victims also must live in a FEMA designated flood plain or be included in a preliminary flood map.
The buyout amount is 75 percent of a home’s appraised value. If the homeowner has flood insurance and the amount being offered is less than the appraised value, FEMA will pay 75 percent of the difference. There are some fees including closing costs, appraisal fees and demolition that homeowners must contribute to. Demolition alone averages about $20,000, according to Ward.
If Florence victims want to get in on the Matthew buyout they need to let city officials know quickly. If there are more requests than can be accommodated in the Matthew buyout, the city will start a Florence buyout program, but that puts any payments years down the road.
Ward assured the large crowd gathered in the auditorium that the city is not trying to force anyone to sell; the buyout is totally voluntary with sellers able to back out until the last minute.
City spokesperson Taylor Newell said a count of the number of people who want to proceed with a buyout was not taken Wednesday night.
The number on the list for the Matthew buyout was up to 42 of the 56 affected residents, which will leave a large amount of vacant property around the city. Another 34 Hurricane Florence victims have been added as alternates, and City Administrator Adam Emrick said Monday he is expecting more. If the money will not cover everyone, the city will have to come up with some way to prioritize the alternates, he said.
One person wanted to make sure that the city won’t be able to turn around and sell his property, but Ward assured him that the land has to remain vacant forever. There are a few allowed uses including walking trails and other environmentally-friendly activities that don’t require any impervious surfaces.
There were apparently some people who got their questions answered early or the buyout just didn’t appeal to them because there was a steady stream of people leaving the auditorium during the meeting.