Homeowners frustrated by federal buyout program - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Homeowners frustrated by federal buyout program

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) – Lorraine Goff is so unhappy with the living conditions inside her flood-damaged home in east Jackson County, she didn't want our cameras inside it. 

"We leave our cabinets, like kitchen cabinets and bathroom cabinets, closed and actually tied up because there's mold in there," said Goff.  "Our closets in our bedrooms, we never open those. My husband built me a pole rack, I guess you could say 12 feet long, and that's what we hang our clothes on. But we never open anything."

Goff said when she and her husband built the home in 1972, they did not know they were building in a flood zone.  Goff and her husband are focused on completing a home on higher ground, but they are depending on the sale of their flood-prone home to finish the work and move. 

Goff is one of nearly 100 homeowners in the Pecan and Franklin Creek areas of Jackson County who have been waiting since Hurricane Georges for a federal buyout program to relieve them of their flood-prone property.  Jackson County planning officials said the project is funded by FEMA and MEMA, and allows Jackson County to buy the problematic homes and demolish them.  Once the sale and demolition are completed and proven to be up to state and federal standards, the county is reimbursed.

"We're just waiting on this buyout to finally help us move on with our lives just like many other people.  They're waiting on the same thing," said Goff.   "We had gotten flooded from Georges and we were nearly completed with all of those renovations when Katrina hit.  So we just could not see putting more money back into this house.  With this buyout, when they buy you out they will tear your house down, so we didn't want to put more money into the house, we just thought it was more reasonable to put it into the new house."

Planning Director Michele Coats said the project began in 1998, and the first homes were set to close the day Hurricane Katrina struck.  Coats said those homes closed shortly after, but the second phase of the project has still not been completed.  Coats said she deals with the volumes of paperwork required by the program each day.  She said each home in the program had a separate file so big it could not be sent in an email.

"We've got three levels of government involvement," explained Coats.  "You've got the Federal government level with FEMA, you've got the State of Mississippi with MEMA, and then the Jackson County Board of Supervisors at the county level, as well as the homeowner in this project.  What seems like what should be a short process does take a long time to move forward.  And I think there's been some frustration of the homeowners."

That frustration was heard at District 1 Supervisor Manly Barton's town hall meeting Monday night.  Barton said he knew the delays in the program would be a topic of concern with the people who attended.

"They have been told and are continuing to be told that within a few months it's going to happen and they can move on with their life," Barton said. "These people cannot move on with their lives until it's over with.  And so, it has been very frustrating."

Although Coats doesn't argue the process is slow, she said there has been movement on the project recently, as FEMA has approved the buyout of several homes on the list.

"We have been waiting on about 20 homes to be approved at that last FEMA stage to go ahead and close," said Coats.  "We have six sets then, we've had several property owners who have backed out.  At that point we want to start working on the next group of 10 and then 10 after that and 10 after that.  It makes paperwork go a lot easier if we work in groups of 10."

Coats said the project was divided into priority groups when it began. 

"We wanted to get the oldest people out of there first if we could," said Coats.  "And then after that the people that did go back out and then make some repairs to their home and that are still living there in a home that is basically not complete."

Coats said after this phase of buyouts, the top priority groups will be accounted for.

Barton and Coats both said the pace of project frustrates them as well, and they ask residents for patience as the project moves forward.

"The county doesn't make the rules and so we're trying to work with the federal people, work with the state people to make that happen and its just been very, very slow," said Barton.

Barton will host another town hall meeting this Thursday at 6:30 at the East Central Community Center in Hurley.  He will cover several topics, including an update on economic development and the county's water and sewer project in that area.

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