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Windsor Hopes to Raise Houses to Meet Floodplain Rules

  • Lexi Auclair, 12, left, plays HORSE with her brother Tyler Auclair, 13, right, outside their home on Jarvis Street in Windsor, Vt., Sunday, December 11, 2016. Two doors down, at left, is one of two homes in the neighborhood that were purchased by the Windsor Improvement Corporation with plans to raise their foundations above flood level and repair the structures in compliance with post Hurricane Katrina federal floodplain regulations. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Theetge, of Windsor, turns to watch a skateboarder while having his portrait taken outside his home in Windsor, Vt., Sunday, December 11, 2016. Theetge, a mason, grew up in the neighborhood near the Connecticut River that has a history of flooding. He has been improving his home for at least half of the 30 years he's lived there. "I was just an 8-year-old when they came down and evacuated us," he said, remembering flooding in 1971. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Twenty nine National Street is one of two homes purchased by the Windsor Improvement Corporation with plans to raise their foundations above flood level and repair the structures in Windsor, Vt., Sunday, December 11, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jackie Thurston, of Windsor, takes her dog Finn for a walk on Jarvis Street in Windsor, Vt. Sunday, December 11, 2016. Thurston lives across the street from the house at right, purchased by the Windsor Improvement Corporation. The neighborhood sits within the floodplain of the Connecticut River, which was raised three feet when federal guidelines changed after Hurricane Katrina. Under the rules, owners are not permitted to invest more than 50 percent of the home's value in improvements if the building is below flood level. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, December 11, 2016

Windsor — Town officials hope the nonprofit Windsor Improvement Corp.’s purchase of two vacant homes in the Jarvis Street area will be a first step in long process toward rehabilitation of other homes in the neighborhood.

Over the next year, the town plans to raise the structures to bring them into compliance with federal flood guidelines, renovate them and place them back on the market for resale.

Town officials said this is a pilot program, and if successful, it could become a blueprint that homeowners in that section of town who want to improve their properties could follow.

“Homes in this situation are not only at risk of flooding but the regulations make it challenging to get the financing to address that risk, as well as other basic property needs,” said John Tansey, president of WIC, in a news release announcing the purchase last week. “If we are successful, we are hopefully showing a way that such problems can be addressed by other homeowners.”

Town Manager Tom Marsh and Bob Haight, downtown develop coordinator and the town zoning administrator, said the town is trying to address longstanding problems in the area related flooding, economic conditions and federal guidelines for properties in the flood hazard area.

According to Marsh, not long after Hurricane Ka trina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, the federal government revisited its criteria for flood zone areas.

The result in Windsor redefined the so-called Base Flood Elevation from 327 feet above sea level to 330 feet, which put most of the properties in the area east of the railroad tracks to the Connecticut River out of compliance with federal flood guidelines, Marsh said.

In last week’s news release, WIC said there are nearly 180 structures in the designated downtown area that are within the Special Flood Hazard Area.

With the new flood plain regulations, not only did flood insurance rates increase dramatically but Congress also scaled back subsidies. Furthermore, investment in properties that are not in compliance with those regulations is restricted, the town manager said.

According to Marsh and Haight, a homeowner is prohibited by law from investing in his or her home more than 50 percent of the value of the structure over a five year period if it is in not in compliance with federal flood guidelines.

Most of the homes around Jarvis Street were built about 100 years ago as worker housing for the National Acme, Haight said. With many of them assessed in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, including land, it does not take much investment to hit the 50 percent threshold over five years.

The cost of a new kitchen and bathroom or a new roof can easily exceed more than half the value of many of the homes in that area, Marsh said. And it does not matter whether you have a mortgage or own the home and choose to not carry flood insurance.

“Even if you own the home with no mortgage, you still must be in compliance to invest above the 50 percent threshold,” Haight said. “Once it (the house) is elevated, you take the 50 percent requirement out of the equation.”

The main impediment is getting financing to raise the house. “They can’t get the commercial financing to raise the house and get it out of the flood zone,” Marsh said. “So they can’t invest in their property.”

The town believes it has found a solution to that problem through the state Treasurer’s Office. Marsh said the treasurer has agreed to set up a fund for homeowners to use for the purpose of raising their home out of the flood plain.

Tim Lueders-Dumont, policy director for the Treasurer’s Office, said money has been set aside, but not obligated.

“It is part of our investment in local communities,” Lueders-Dumont said Friday. “We are intrigued by what Windsor is trying to do but we have not worked out the details for the program.”

Marsh said he envisions the town receiving the money from the state with a guarantee to repay it and arranging loans to qualified homeowners to bring their properties in compliance.

For the two properties the Windsor Improvement Corporation purchased, one on Jarvis Street and the other on National Street, the town will secure the properties and make plans to raise them and then renovate them.

Funding for the project is coming from the town’s revolving loan grant funds, which has as one of its objectives making improvements to housing. The goal is to begin renovations in the spring and complete them by the fall.

The cost to lift the houses and install a “flood compliant structure” underneath has been estimated in the range of $5,000 to $8,000, Marsh said.

Marsh and Haight agree that this solution may not be perfect but it offers the best chance of improving homes in the Jarvis Street area.

“If we don’t do anything, there will not be much hope for that neighborhood,” Marsh said. “This can be a mechanism to do something if they can get community financing. Otherwise, the integrity of the neighborhood will continue to decline and homes valued at $30,000 now will be worth around $19,000 in 10 or 12 years.”

The area is next to the former Goodyear plant and the town is looking at trying to find ways to redevelop that space as well.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.