Land in sight for flood victims

Nearly five months after the torrential Labor Day storm, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) announced help for flood victims who are not eligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

“What we’re trying to put together is a combination of funds,” Morrissey said. “Our goal is to have a fund that allows us to start to bridge the gap between where we think the SBA loan process may leave off and where our needs of our constituents are in our community.”

Morrissey reported 738 homes had been damaged Sept. 4. According to the city, 68 of those were determined to have sustained major damage, and 24 homes were condemned.

“We are limiting repairs at this time to life-safety repairs, which covers mechanical, electrical, plumbing and minor structural,” explained Jennifer Jaeger, community services block grant director. “Those are the things that need to occur for people to be safe in their homes, and that’s where we’re focusing.”

To qualify for this assistance, applicants would first have to be declined an SBA loan. If approved, however, the SBA loans can be stretched over 30 years and have interest rates of 3.125 percent for residential repairs and 4 percent for businesses.

The SBA set up shop Jan. 10 in the offices of the Human Services Department, 612 N. Church St., but the Feb. 1 press conference also included an announcement of the SBA’s immediate departure.

SBA Field Operations Manager Travis Brown explained, “The activity levels have fallen off to where we feel it’s prudent to go home.”

Brown reported, as of Jan. 31, 10 of 41 residential loan applications had been approved. Two of three business loan requests had also been granted. Brown said SBA loans to flood victims total $633,900 so far, but that he hoped to report a higher number of applicants.

Brown said lack of or inadequate income is the primary reason for denial, but implored all Rockford and Winnebago County flood victims to take the step of applying immediately.

Although the SBA will no longer be present at the Human Services Department, applications and information may be obtained by calling 1-800-659-2955. The deadline for application is March 6.

City officials urged the necessity of applying for SBA assistance first.

“They need to apply for the SBA loan program even if they know they will not be approved for it,” noted Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11), whose ward was among the hardest hit.

“You can’t skip the SBA step,” Morrissey stressed. “We require applicants to first make the application to the SBA so if those funds aren’t available, that’s when our program would kick in.”

Oct. 20, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied Rockford’s initial request for flood relief. A subsequent appeal was denied in December, leaving many residents in the cold.

Ironically, the Dec. 1 snowstorm was disastrous enough for Rockford to secure as much as $250,000 in relief from FEMA. Mayor Morrissey plans to direct those funds to flood victims.

Other funding sources for the program include $250,000 from Community Development Block Grants, a $200,000 state grant obtained by State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-Rockford) and $150,000 from the Human Services Department.

Jan. 16, Human Services Executive Director George Davis laid out the plan to the City Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee. Davis said he hoped to serve about 200 homes still in need of furnace, water heater or electrical repair or replacement.

Aldermen approved the Rockford Area Disaster Assistance Recovery (RADAR) Plan Jan. 29.

Morrissey is concerned by the low number of SBA loan applications received so far, but he hopes more victims of the Labor Day flood will apply before March 6 so no one falls through the cracks.

“The clock’s ticking,” Morrissey warned. “We certainly don’t want to see people miss out on this opportunity because they didn’t file on time.”

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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