Local leaders tell residents to seek federal flood assistance

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published October 15, 2014


ROYAL OAK — City commissioners passed last week on creating a proposal that would offer residents free permits for certain work resulting from flood damage repair.

The Oct. 6 decision to not take action came upon the advice of City Manager Don Johnson, who explained during the regular commission meeting that because of the presidential disaster declaration Sept. 25, he believed that permit costs should be covered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency program.

“If we were to refund permit costs, it appears the principal beneficiary will be the federal government,” Johnson said during the meeting. “If this turns out not to be the case, we can consider a refund program later.”

The idea of paying residential permits related to flood damage was first proposed during the commission’s Sept. 15 meeting.

City officials now urge residents to contact a FEMA representative for assistance. As of Oct. 8, residents in the tri-county area had been approved for $42.8 million in FEMA grant awards. Of the approved grants, $31.7 million had been disbursed.

Royal Oak resident Jeanne Wolf visited the FEMA Registration Intake Center located in the Mahany/Meininger Senior Community Center last Thursday.

“I prefer to deal with a person,” she said, adding that the process was straightforward.

Wolf lives near the city’s senior community center and suffered basement damage during the Aug. 11 storm.

“You lose things you can’t replace,” she said.

FEMA Crew Lead Joe Kimble said the Mahany/Meininger location received consistent attendance — about 30-40 residents each day — since the intake center opened Oct. 6.

“We’re here to assist them one-on-one, and that gets the ball rolling for assistance from FEMA,” Kimble said.

City officials were not sure how long FEMA representatives would be at the Royal Oak senior community center, as their presence is based on need.

Kimble said local residents may also visit the Oakland County FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in meeting rooms 1 and 2 at the Gerry Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois in Ferndale. The hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Kimble said the difference between the Royal Oak temporary intake center and the recovery center is that the Ferndale location is more like a one-stop-shop for many disaster recovery needs. He said the Royal Oak location just gets the ball rolling.

In addition to FEMA representatives, the Ferndale location also hosts representatives from various state programs, other partnering agencies that could deliver assistance, and people from the Small Business Administration.

FEMA Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist Jim Woodard said the U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest loan applications for private homes and businesses.

“That might open the door for other grants,” Woodward said.

Loans available through the Small Business Administration include repayment terms as long as 30 years and interest rates as low as slightly more than 2 percent. Those who receive FEMA grants and/or insurance proceeds may still borrow money to recoup flood-related losses.

While attending either location, residents can register for assistance, discuss types of disaster assistance programs with specialists, and receive status updates from existing applications.

Residents should bring the Social Security numbers of all household members, private insurance information and picture identification if inquiring about an update on an in-progress application. They must also provide a gross household income amount.

Residents with flood damage are able to apply for both cash grants from FEMA and low-interest loans through the SBA. The separate programs are designed to assist with different aspects of post-disaster recovery.

“The old rule of thumb is FEMA’s here to give you a helping hand to get you back on your feet. We want you in a safe, sanitary and secure situation,” said Rita Egan, FEMA media relations specialist. “The Small Business Administration — they can help homeowners, renters, and businesses — can get you back to where you were.”

Grants from FEMA can be awarded to offset the costs of cleaning flood-damaged properties and making them livable. Housing assistance is available for qualified applicants, and homeowners who purchased a dehumidifier to mitigate damage after the flood could also be eligible for reimbursement.

Once the application process is complete, applicants will be contacted and asked to schedule a brief inspection with a FEMA contractor. The contractor will take measurements and may take photos of damaged properties and ask to see receipts, identification and proof of ownership.

After the inspection, a determination should be made within seven to 10 days. The inspector does not make the determination but provides additional information as a result of the inspection. Egan said program specialists make the determinations and applicants can appeal all decisions.

Applicants can be notified by email or regular mail if they qualify, and they can receive checks for grant funds in the mail or by direct deposit. Grant funds awarded by FEMA do not need to be paid back.

City officials strongly encourage residents to register early. The deadline to apply is Nov. 24.

They should also be aware that property owners must apply to FEMA for federal assistance even if they have filed a claim with the city of Royal Oak. The two processes are separate.

Registration may be completed online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). People can apply on their smartphones at m.fema.gov. Before applying, FEMA representatives encourage residents to visit www.disaster assistance.gov/disaster-assistance/application-checklist.

Staff Writers Brian Louwers and Terry Oparka contributed to this story.