BARRE, Vt. – After Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont, many residents were left homeless in areas of the state that were already experiencing shortages of affordable housing.
Local, state and federal officials worked together on a number of fronts, including a pilot program that helped renovate unoccupied and uninhabitable multi-family rental housing units in Barre through a private-public partnership.
Now with the last disaster survivors moving out or becoming rent-paying tenants, the project is being hailed as a success story for all of the parties involved.
“This project not only provided cost-effective housing for seven families displaced by Irene, but it helped refurbish rental housing stock in an area that really needed it,” said Dave Rapaport, Vermont’s Irene Recovery Officer.
The Multi-Family Repair Program takes Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to renovate unoccupied multi-family rental housing units that need to be brought to a habitable standard in areas where existing rental units cannot meet the needs of disaster survivors.
The owners of the property agree to make the repaired rental units solely available to FEMA-identified disaster survivors for up to 18 months from the date of the disaster.
In Barre, that meant using roughly $87,000 in federal funds to fix up a South Main Street apartment building to provide five rental units to families, several of whom owned their own homes but needed alternate living quarters while they made repairs to their damaged dwellings.
“It could have cost as much as $50,000 apiece to purchase mobile homes for use by these families,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Mark Landry, the head of FEMA’s Vermont operations. “Then we would have had to sell off the mobile homes or otherwise dispose of them. This was much more cost-effective.”
A total of 106 mobile homes and 157 stick-built homes were destroyed or substantially damaged by Irene in Washington County, an area that was already facing a tight housing market before the storm struck.
“This was not only a case of helping our neighbors, but also helping our city,” said Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon. “The investment in this building not only helps our tax base and improves the area, it provides additional rental capacity for Barre residents now that the disaster survivors have moved into their own homes again. This truly was win-win-win for the displaced victims, the private sector and the City.”
In fact, one of the residents who had been displaced by Irene and had been having their rent paid by FEMA is remaining in the building and has already signed a private lease with the owners.
“The Multi-Family Repair Program was a great fit here,” said FEMA’s Albert Ferri, who oversaw its implementation in Vermont. “FEMA is committed to trying new programs designed to assist survivors, and it’s gratifying to see positive results like these.”
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders and to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.