Nashville Flood Relief Comes From Affordable Housing Group

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The city of Nashville is taking matters into its own hands when it comes to helping residents recover from the devastating floods this past May, offering residents a number of options to obtain additional funding to repair and rebuild.

"Because this was a 1,000-year flood event, the waters reached homes well outside the flood plain," said Loretta Owens, executive director of The Housing Fund, an affordable housing organization in Nashville that will administer the funds. "This meant that most people did not have any type of flood insurance."

Those whose homes were damaged have spent the past two months sorting through a morass of paperwork and bureaucratic roadblocks.

The new relief option offers relief for those who have exhausted federal assistance options.
After more than two months of frustration by homeowners (who have not been able to get enough money to do the repair work and rebuilding required to get their homes back to the way they were), the city of Nashville will help homeowners with a combination of low-interest and no-interest loans, as well as grants and construction volunteers.

The program, dubbed We Are Home "grew out of listening to flooded homeowners," said Owens. "What they told us is that even after all the help from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the SBA (Small Business Administration), they still had big gaps in finding the funds to complete their reconstruction."

Owens said it hopes eventually to have a pool of $50 million from donations, corporate contributions and federal grants. At present, We Are Home has received $5.6 million from two federal grant programs, along with a $1 million contribution from Regions Bank and $900,000 from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Homeowners who already have applied for help from FEMA and the SBA are eligible to apply for additional funds from the We Are Home program, which will start meeting with applicants on July 7. (Homeowners can call [615] 862-6523 to make appointments.)

Mayor Karl Dean told The Tennessean newspaper that residents should get whatever help they can from the federal government before they apply to the city's program. Once they have exhausted that avenue, they are clear to apply for whatever they need to bridge the gap.

"The federal government was swift to respond to this disaster and has been a constant presence in our recovery efforts since," said Dean in a news release. "But the reality is many Nashville homeowners' needs are beyond the limitations of the available federal disaster assistance."

Owens outlined the three-tiered approach that the program would take in granting relief. Those affected by the disaster would be offered three options, in the following order:
  • Loans of up to $100,000 at 4 percent interest
  • Grants of up to $10,000
  • Up to $20,000 in interest-free loans, which would be due when the home is sold

Loans will be offered based on a resident's ability to repay. Owens expects many already are at their credit limit, and said she believes many will qualify for grants. If there is a need beyond the amount of the grant, zero-percent interest loans will be offered.

"We are expecting to average about $20,000 in assistance," said Owens.

One Nashville resident told a local TV station that while the program will help her obtain the $117,500 she will need to repair her home after flooding ruined her first floor, "The problem is, we don't need to owe more money," said Cindy Lockhart. "That's what really is going to be the problem."

The program is offering creative ways to help as many homeowners as possible, said Owens, including enlisting an active corps of volunteers who will help with rebuilding. "It will help those who can do some of the work stretch their dollars. And it will help others who can't manage the rebuild process."

It's imperative the community work together, she added, and expects this program to continue into next year. "The city needs to take this on," she said. "People need to be able to rebuild their lives. If they don't, the value of the surrounding properties isn't going to rebound, and our tax base isn't going to rebound. This is the perfect case of what's good for the individual is good for the community."

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