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Published 1:26 pm Thursday, August 10, 2017

WINDSOR – A pair of Mid-East Commission (MEC) administrators appeared before the Bertie County Commissioners at its regular August meeting and they told the Board there are additional financing options available for victims of the storms of 2016.

Bryant Buck, MEC Executive Director, also introduced Leah Henry, Disaster Recovery Coordinator, who will assist in bringing in resources to the municipalities and counties in addition to alerting businesses and homeowners of their availability.

Buck said there are still Workforce Development personnel assisting local public works with clean-up efforts in the county.

The newest assistance comes as the Essential Single-Family Rehabilitation Loan Pool-Disaster Recovery (ESFRLP-DR). This program provides funds through a “loan pool” to assist with the rehabilitation of owner-occupied homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew, and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine.

“This is a forgivable loan of which they have about $15 million they’re trying to give away to meet the needs of the citizens in the affected areas,” Buck explained. “The minimum amount (available) is $5,000 and the maximum is $40,000.  Those who qualify have to show that you have incurred the minimum in storm related damages to your home.”

Buck said there is an income eligibility requirement: one must be below 100 percent of the area’s median income. After a damage assessment by the Mid-East Commission, applicants can then be signed up for the program.  In Bertie, the media income for a one-person household is $33,900 and for a four-person household – which is the standard – the limit would be $48,300.

Leah Henry, Disaster Recovery Coordinator for the Mid-East Commission, addresses Bertie County Commissioners at their August meeting. Henry informed the Board on housing finance options for victims of 2016’s Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

“Most of our homeowners have little problem meeting that requirement,” Buck acknowledged.

He said the forgivable loan drops off $5,000 per year as long as the applicant maintains residence in the home.

Applications are now being taken through the next couple of weeks, but Buck says he expects the program to fill-up quickly.

“It comes on a first come-first served basis,” he cautioned. “So when we get the word out we’ll start taking the intake information.”

Buck said after the first three houses are approved within the MEC’s five county area of Bertie, Hertford, Martin, Beaufort, and Pitt, then Mid-East may access additional funds from the North Carolina Housing Finance, when available, on a unit-by-unit basis from the ESFRLP-DR loan pool.

“We’re going to try to get those first three houses completed and keep it going,” he said.

“They’re really trying to push this initiative to assist the homeowners that were affected by Matthew.”

Commissioner Ron Wesson inquired if there was a county allotment, and Buck said no; that it was open to anybody in the MEC region on the first come-first-serve basis.

“The Mid-East Commission applied to NC Housing Finance for our region and we received $150,000, which is not a lot,” he said. “But there are other initiatives, other contractors who are working in Bertie County under this same funding.  If I have applicants we can’t facilitate, we will send them to our partners who are under this same housing program.  We want to assist as many applicants as possible.  Once we get moving we can apply for more funding.”

“I just don’t want Bertie County to get short-sighted,” Wesson replied. “We’ve been hit hard, and we’ve got to make sure this county receives its fair share.”

Commissioner Ernestine Bazemore said the Commissioners have to act as a ‘Committee of One’ and get the word out across Bertie County.

Henry then shared her data of additional funds available.

“With the town of Windsor we’ve shared a lot of up-to-date information on funding sources, grants, etc., with the town’s administrator,” Henry said. “We’re looking at maximizing the economic development opportunities in this disaster recovery because a lot of money is coming through.”

Henry said among the entities there are a lot of common issues such as drainage, roadways, and housing stock. She said most of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery money has been earmarked mostly for housing in the hardest hit counties, and 25 percent of those funds are still available somewhere in the $30 million range.

“August 11 is the date when counties must inform Emergency Management how you would like to use monies,” she revealed. “I hope you’ve talked with your municipalities about how you’re going to apply for the competitive funds.  Those funds can be used for housing, economic development, or infrastructure.”

Henry said while Bertie County has taken advantage of Golden Leaf’s $50 million statewide grants, there is more money available for infrastructure for housing development.

“Infrastructure for housing development does not have an income restriction or a disaster restriction,” she noted. “This is just to generate new housing development.”

Wesson wanted to know more about the funds, such as if there were matching dollars.

“They want to keep it (the requirement) at a minimum,” she said. “There’s no income restriction and it doesn’t have to be paid back. There has not been an overwhelming demand on the infrastructure to produce housing.”

She said this program might be what counties need to close the gap in funding for new apartment construction. She also said the NC Community Development Initiative has funds for developers as well as landlords.

“The funds they have for landlords who had properties damaged by the storm have the opportunity to receive money to repair those properties that is 50 percent forgivable over the course of a few years if they keep them (the properties) affordable,” she alerted.

Henry said she would be forwarding updated background and contact information to Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer about available sources of funds. She added the biggest thing Emergency Management needs is feedback.

“They may have an opportunity to re-design the money,” she declared. “But they need people to come to them and let them know what they need in order to make it work.”

She said one of the opportunities available is funds for staffing for local governments and that these local governments are going to require more assistance.

Wesson asked about funding assistance for business owners other than loans.

“We have business owners still paying back loans from (Hurricane) Floyd, so there’s no way they could take on additional loan burden. “So is there anything else that can help them,” he asked.

Henry said that she was unaware of any resources other than the business loans.

“We’re trying to have flexible requirements and things like low interest rates, but there still isn’t anything else for businesses,” she admitted.

Buck returned one last time to re-iterate that the ESFRLP-DR is a forgivable loan and after five years of residency up to $5,000.

“If they stay less, it will be pro-rated,” Buck said. “If they stay three years, $15,000 would be taken off that if that’s how much cost they incurred or how much of the loan they used. If they stay in the home a certain amount of time they only have to pay back a graduated amount.  If they stay the full-time, the loan is forgiven.”

He also said costs would not be separated for any applicants affected by the three different storms; all three would be fully covered.