Duluth begins buying flood-damaged homesTheresa Bunnell thought she’d feel a clear sense of relief Tuesday afternoon when she completed the sale of her flood-damaged Lincoln Park house to the city of Duluth. But after she signed the closing papers, Bunnell stopped to take a final look at her soon-to-be-demolished home and felt a familiar pang.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Theresa Bunnell thought she’d feel a clear sense of relief Tuesday afternoon when she completed the sale of her flood-damaged Lincoln Park house to the city of Duluth. But after she signed the closing papers, Bunnell stopped to take a final look at her soon-to-be-demolished home and felt a familiar pang.
“I did a lot of work on this house. It has new siding and windows and trim. I picked out the colors myself. And I designed and built the front deck,” she said. “It tears me up to know it’s not going to be mine any more.”
While selling her home of seven years has wrenched Bunnell’s emotions, she still considers herself fortunate. The house was rendered uninhabitable after 4-6 feet of water poured into her finished basement and undermined the foundation during the June 2012 flood. The estimated cost of needed repairs exceeded the value of the structure.
Bunnell acknowledged she would have been in a real bind had state flood relief not been made available to fund a city-managed buyout program.
“I don’t know what I would have done. I’m so grateful this program was there for me,” she said.
When the city closed on Bunnell’s house Tuesday, it marked the third property Duluth has acquired thanks to nearly $1.1 million it received through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Home Buyout Program. That money will be used to purchase and remove 10 flood-damaged structures this summer, said Daniel Fanning, a community relations officer for the city of Duluth.
In all, the city aims to purchase and demolish 20 structures that were left badly compromised by arguably the worst flood ever to hit Duluth.
The state money will be used to match and leverage roughly an equal amount from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this summer.
Only properties that are in designated flood plains are eligible for buyouts using federal money, but the state money can be used to remove other structures outside the flood plain that were nevertheless left uninhabitable as a result of the June flood.
Although state money has begun to flow, Fanning said federally backed buyouts are still to come for Duluth.
“FEMA is moving a little slower, but the ball is rolling, and we hope to start scheduling closings in the next month or two,” he said.
Fanning said the city is eager to move ahead with all 20 of the voluntary buyouts it has arranged.
“We have a tremendous sense of urgency to get this done, so folks can get on with their lives and so that we don’t have people out there who are stuck paying for rent plus making a mortgage payment on a now-uninhabitable home,” he said.
Fanning said city staff have been pushing hard to complete the buyouts and gave thanks to lawmakers and state officials for their efforts to make flood assistance available to displaced families.
People participating in the buyout program will receive checks for the pre-flood assessed value of their property. Some property owners who had their property professionally appraised shortly before the flood may qualify to receive higher payments.
Most of the $67,300 payment Bunnell received for her house Tuesday went to pay off her mortgage. She plans to use the remainder — about $19,000 — for a down payment on the home in Proctor she’s buying from One Roof Community Housing.
In accordance with program requirements, any property purchased with buyout money will become green space in the city, never to be redeveloped.
Bunnell takes at least a bit of consolation from the idea of one day returning to her former home, reborn as a neighborhood park.
“I’d like to bring my grandson here someday and show him where his grandma used to live,” she said.