Options exist for those who lost homes to Matthew

After the floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew had retreated, one of the things that quickly came into focus was that the new Robeson County would be much different than what it had been on Oct. 7.

And one of the differences was going to be a contracted population.

Estimates are that as many as 5,000 people were chased from their homes during the hurricane and the days that followed, and more than 8,000 structures were damaged, many of which were destroyed. A disproportionate number of people and homes affected were in South Lumberton and West Lumberton, two of the older communities in the county seat, where some of our most vulnerable people lived — many for generations.

They found dry land in temporary housing provided by FEMA, but some took refuge with friends or family, and often that meant leaving Robeson County. Many will not return, but we doubt there will ever be a precise accounting of how many.

For those who do want to reclaim their property, there are options, but we worry that a lot of them remain ignorant of what they are. Outreach is needed, and the county this week provided some, inviting a Robeson County reporter to share with our readers the help that exists.

Staff writer Bob Shiles’ story was published in Tuesday’s print edition, and can be found at robesonian.com with the link — http://robesonian.com/news/95654/housing-help-outlined.

But we know there are those who struggle to read or simply don’t know how to negotiate the system, people who need advocates.

The most robust is offered through North Carolina’s Division of Emergency Management, which has $100 million that can be provided in grants for buyouts, home reconstruction and to lift homes that are in flood zones to higher ground.

Briefly, here is how each works:

— In the buyout program, the homeowner is offered the appraised value of the property before Hurricane Matthew. If the owner accepts the offer, the owner receives the money, the home is demolished, and the property reverts back to the county, mostly like to exist as green space. A maximum of $276,000 is available in a single grant, and that includes the cost of demolition.

— A second program offers a maximum grant of $175,000 that can be used to lift a property to one foot above the base flood elevation.

— A third grant offers no more than $150,000 for reconstruction. The damaged structure can be repaired, but the money can also be sued to demolish it and rebuild.

The county plans to hold a public meeting on Feb. 20 at the Department of Social Services building off N.C. 711 in Lumberton to explain the hazard mitigation grants in more detail. Representatives of the N.C. Division of Emergency Management are expected to attend. This newspaper will provide our readers a timely reminder.

Applications will be taken for the grants at the old DSS building on N.C. 711 from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24.

We know there will be a lot of people who need help who will not read this information, so that obligates the rest of us to reach out to those who need help and walk them through the process.

Robeson County needs as much of that $100 million as possible going to work for people here who had little to lose, and then lost it all. They have suffered enough, and housing is a necessary step toward life as it once was.

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