For some, disaster loans aren’t about fixing what’s lost, but about starting over

Deena Turner and her family have been living in a motorhome parked next to their Woodhull home since the August flood. She says the house is beyond what they can afford to fix. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—Deena Turner still hasn’t returned to live in her Woodhull home, and she probably never will. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace the furnace, appliances and floors destroyed by floodwaters last summer.

Their home was across from one of two creeks that flooded when Tropical Storm Fred passed through the area in August.

“At this point, the bank is like, ‘Well, it’s up to you to repair the damage,'” Turner said. “All the quotes we got are above the value of the house.”

Turner is one of hundreds of Steuben County residents who lost their belongings after flooding last summer. To fill the gaps, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has offered loans to cover the cost of the damage, but some say the help came too late.

In search of a new beginning

Turner and her boyfriend were still paying off the mortgage when their home near downtown flooded.

They are a “blended” family, Turner said, and lived there with their four children.

“He has two kids from a previous relationship. I have two kids from a previous relationship,” Turner explained. “So we made a lot of memories together as a family, rather than as a couple that has children.”

The family stayed in a hotel immediately after the flood. But the children were far from school in Addison, and taking them there by bus became complicated.

For now, Turner and her children are dividing their time between an RV parked in the yard and her parents’ house.

“Before we have this [camper], we were loaned a smaller one, so there wasn’t really room to move,” Turner continued. “We were basically on top of each other.”

Turner said the family planned to buy a new house, one on higher ground and where they could more easily settle. That makes more sense, she explained, than putting more money into an area that could flood again.

To cover the down payment, the couple sought help from the SBA.

“We’re hoping that with the SBA loan, it really helps us start fresh and work to get back the things we lost,” Turner said.

This includes much of their furniture and two vehicles, leaving the family with just one car. Turner, who needs a car to get to work, said the family struggled without one.

“It’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel,” she continued. “There is hope, I hope.”

The watermark in Helen Colegrove’s basement is about seven feet away. Floodwaters filled the room during Tropical Storm Fred last August. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

“A Day Late and a Dollar Short”

The SBA offered residents low-interest loans. They have until mid-March to apply online and can get help with their application at a relief center set up in Woodhull until Thursday 10 February.

But many city owners have already spent thousands of dollars on repairs. Helen Colegrove said the loans would have been helpful months ago when she bought a new furnace and new flooring.

His basement filled with seven feet of water and his living room floor buckled from the dampness below.

“It’s a day late and a dollar is missing. If we don’t have it now, we can’t live in our homes,” Colegrove said. “We must have heat. We must have electricity. We had to get water, and there was no one to pay for it at that time.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initially denied New York’s request for individual assistance in October. An appeal was rejected last month.

Carl Dombek, an SBA spokesman, said that was when New York applied and was approved for disaster loans.

Homeowners can get up to $200,000 for flood-related home repairs, and any resident can get up to $40,000 to replace personal property.

But even if residents were offered loans sooner, Colegrove wasn’t sure they would have been the best option.

“I’m 68 and I don’t want a loan in my life,” Colegrove said.

However, she also pointed out that she was in a better position than many of her neighbors. Unlike some of them, she could stay home all winter.

James V. Hayes