SUBSTANTIAL DAMAGE: Couple in financial peril after house elevation ordered

Published 8:16 pm Friday, December 14, 2018

For Lloyd and Debbie Davis, the house at they purchased as an investment for their retirement has turned into a nightmare after Hurricane Florence.

After gathering the necessary estimates to repair the home, the couple hit a brick wall — a letter from the Washington Department of Planning and Development informed them that house had suffered “substantial damage” as per city building codes, effectively rendering the 1920s-era home at 106 E. 11th St. uninhabitable.

To bring the building up to code, the couple would have to elevate the home, at a cost of more than $86,000, of which only $30,000 would be covered under their flood insurance policy with the National Flood Insurance Program.

Unable to sell or rent, lacking the necessary funds to elevate and now with no hope of a FEMA buyout, the two now fear the home at 106 E. 11th Street may end up going back to the bank.

After the house was damaged during Hurricane Matthew, the Davises sought assistance from the City of Washington to pursue Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding. While some applicants had already received funds, others, like the Davises, were still waiting to hear back on theirs in September when Hurricane Florence wrecked havoc on eastern North Carolina.

With thousands in equity already tied up in an 11-year-old mortgage and an excellent credit rating, the two have a lot to lose. Lloyd and Debbie are both senior citizens — he is on disability and she is retired — and the Davises were counting on the home to help support them in their retirement.

Situated 11 blocks from the Pamlico River, and with little knowledge of the hydrology of Jack’s Creek, the two purchased the home in 2007 with the goal of renovating and flipping the property. That all changed with the housing market crash of 2008. According to Debbie, they weren’t informed that the house was in a floodplain until the day of the signing.

“Financial difficulties loom as we are not receiving rent and mortgage payments continue, as well as homeowner’s insurance, flood insurance, inspections and elevation certificates,” Debbie wrote in an account of their experiences so far. “It continues to mount.”

At this point, the Davises are attempting to secure a low-interest U.S. Small Business Administration loan to help with the cost of raising the house.


Under National Flood Insurance Program guidelines, a structure is considered “substantially damaged” when the total estimated cost of repairs after a flooding event is equal to half of the structure’s taxable value, not including the land around it.

Due to these standards being written into city and county building codes as a requirement to participate in the program, the regulations apply equally to everyone whose home lies within a special flood hazard area, regardless of whether they buy insurance through NFIP.

Those same NFIP guidelines give property owners three options when their home is substantially damaged — elevate/alter the structure in question, relocate or demolish.

Responsibility for determining substantial damages falls to the local floodplain manager. In Washington and Beaufort County, individuals in the city and county’s respective planning and inspections departments fill that role.


While the Davises are in a difficult situation with their rental property on 11th Street, their story is only one of many. According to Allen Pittman, senior building code official for the City of Washington, there are 18 structures in Washington, Washington Park and the city’s ETJ that have been declared substantially damaged as a result of Hurricane Florence.

Pittman, who also serves as the floodplain manager for the city of Washington, says that the city’s ordinance is based on a model ordinance provided by FEMA. As that ordinance is written, he would be unable to issue a permit for construction activities in the affected homes until they are brought up to code. Pittman says that while he is sympathetic to the people who have been impacted, the rules are in place for a reason.

“Based on our ordinance, I just can’t give them another permit,” Pittman said. “Doing so would risk our program and our 15 percent discount for our CRS (Community Rating System) Class 7.”

During the Dec. 3 meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, the board voted 4-3 to not seek FEMA aid that could be used to buyout properties that have been judged substantially damaged, including uninsured properties. According to a presentation to the board by Lisa Williams, with Beaufort County Emergency Services, 30 homes have thus far been identified in the county that could qualify for these buyouts.

Among commissioners, reasons cited for not wanting to participate in the buyout program included having to take responsibility for maintenance of the properties in question and loss of tax revenue. Commissioners Jerry Langley, Jerry Evans and Ed Booth voted in favor of sending a letter of interest in the program, while Commissioners Hood Richardson, Stan Deatherage, Gary Brinn and Frankie Waters voted against.

For the Davises, and others like them, this decision was a blow.

“It broke my heart to think the county commissioners voted down our one chance for mitigation,” Debbie wrote. “It was our miracle that we had waited for two-and-a-half years.”