Relief in sight for homeowners seeking flood buyouts

By Matt Porter

May 14, 2013 Updated May 15, 2013 at 1:02 PM EDT

Town of Union, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Days after the state of New York promises to provide complete relief for 2011 flood buyouts, town supervisors say the end is in sight for the purchases of hundreds of flooded homes.

Flooded homeowners eligible for a buyout are guaranteed 75 percent of their home value and demolition costs from FEMA.

Now, the state has promised using funds acquired for relief from Superstorm Sandy to fill in the other 25 percent of costs and values not covered by FEMA.

Donna Steven is a grandmother who worked with her husband to make sure her children and grandchildren were secure.

She bought a house down the street from hers on River Road in Endwell years ago.

"It had a nice yard, and everything for the kids," Steven said, "But it's all gone now."

The two-family home was flooded along with hers in 2011.

Steven's daughters moved away or upstairs, leaving a gutted first floor behind.

She's applied for a buyout of both properties, and she's using the money to buy a new home on a hill in Endwell.

Now that the state is guaranteeing the rest of the money, she won't have to take out a loan for her new home.

"Knowing I'm getting the money and I can pay for this house," Steven said, "I am thankful for that."

Town of Union Supervisor Rose Sotak said the guaranteed money makes it easier for more people to accept a buyout.

She said she has 181 applications on the table for flood buyouts.

"And now with this additional 25 percent, they will be able to be a part of the program," Sotak said.

Previously, some eligible homeowners were held up because they couldn't afford to pay down the debt on their homes.

The town said it has pushed lenders to accept a buyout even if it means taking a loss.

"We want to get down every home we can get down," Sotak said, "We don't want them standing when people won't be living in or using them."

Not everyone can afford to rebuild or take a buyout.

That's where Steven Keim and his crew of volunteers from across the country have come in.

Keim oversees a group of volunteer carpenters and builders to help disabled or low-income homeowners fix their homes.

He works for a non-profit company called Brethren Disaster Ministries headquartered in Maryland.

"We work to not just rebuild their homes, but to try to give them hope," Keim said.

Back on River Road, Steven said after two floods, rebuilding isn't an option anymore

"River's going to flood again, who knows if they're going to offer us another buyout," Steven said, "So it's time to go."

A wire transfer system still needs to be set up with Albany before homes can be closed.

Towns say once that's complete, approved buyouts can be closed in a matter of days.

The town of Union hopes demolitions of vacant homes can begin as early as August.

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