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Federal program may help Washington homeowners elevate, relocate

When Joyce and Danny Coward went to bed on the night Hurricane Florence hit Washington, everything seemed relatively normal at their home on East Fourth Street. When Joyce Coward woke up later that night, however, the situation had changed. Their street had become a river, and the two decided to strap on life jackets and flee their home at 3 a.m., carrying their pets with them to meet a relative on higher ground.

A year later, the Cowards are among number of homeowners in Washington who are seeking assistance from the federal government through the Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Revitalization program.

The program, administered by the City of Washington, can help mid-to-low income families impacted by hurricanes Matthew and Florence elevate or relocate to a new home, and applications are now being accepted. Applications are available at the Mid-East Commission Office at 1502 N. Market St., and the deadline to apply is Oct. 7.

“These funds have got some pretty strict guidelines in that they are directly tied to household size and an income limit,” said Mid-East Commission Disaster Recovery Coordinator Lisa Williams. “It is geared toward mid-to-low income.”

For a single person, the income limit is $30,350. For a household of two adults, the limit is $34,650 per year. Applicants have to be able to document significant damages from the storms, and properties must be in the Washington city limits, with taxes paid and a clear title. The owners must have been living in the house when the damages occurred. No rental units will be considered, and FEMA makes the final decision on which properties are funded.

Those selected may receive a 10-year term, 0% interest loan through the CDBG program to assist with rehabilitation or relocation. The decision what to do with those funds comes down to a conversation between the homeowners and the funders.

If a family chooses to relocate to a new home, their former property is deeded to the City and the structure on the site is demolished. It can then be leased to a neighbor to use, be used for a park or green space or allowed to revert back to its natural state. In any case, no new structures can ever be built at the location.

“We own a number of those currently that we maintain as far as grass mowing,” Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell said. “In situations where we can bundle several of those together in one geographic location, we could maintain those as a park or green space that could be utilized by all of the citizens.”

For more information on the program, email Williams at lwilliams@mideastcom.org or call 252-946-8043.