CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Junior Naylor, 69, of Clendenin is pleased state officials have vowed to make housing the top priority for federal mitigation funds.
“But until I see it, I don’t know that I can feel that much better about it,” he said. “But I do have hopes now.”
State officials told legislators on Wednesday that housing had always been the top disaster relief priority for Gov. Jim Justice and his administration.
But they also said hazard mitigation funding would be adjusted to move homeowners above infrastructure projects such as water projects and generators.
To do so, the state will drop a $5 million Emergency Operations Center renovation, $34 million in water projects and $6.9 million in additional infrastructure requests.
That adjustment will come under the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“The governor has directed us and directed DHSM that we will redirect all the priorities to the remaining housing that is out there and try to clean the slate up,” Brian Abraham, general counsel for Gov. Jim Justice said during a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
This followed increased questions by flooded homeowners, county-level disaster officials and legislators from districts that were hit by the catastrophic flood of 2016. MetroNews reporting has highlighted those questions.
At least $21 million in housing requests wound up on a Hazard Mitigation “oversubscribed” list, where they might receive funding if other requests such as for water projects and generators fell by the wayside.
Documents have shown a Nov. 7, 2017, meeting of executive branch leaders concluded with infrastructure and economic development ahead of housing among flood relief priorities. The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management came away believing that was the new direction.
Abraham disputed that characterization, saying the meeting was a conflict resolution session that was truly focused on separate money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Still, Abraham said, “We’ll clear the deck and try to accomplish our housing needs. The governor has always been clear that housing would be priority number one.”
Emergency Management Director Mike Todorovich agreed.
“I have spent some time, some quality time — if I may use the governor’s words loosely — with him explaining that he wanted people to be first,” Todorovich said.
“Our community, the DHSM community, echoes that and we will do everything we can to make people first. That’ll change.”
Junior Naylor was glad to hear that.
The June 2016 flood destroyed his house, a multi-car metal garage and a two-story cinderblock building. He signed papers signaling a buyout that July, had heart surgery in September and watched the demolition of the buildings in October.
As he recalled, a National Guard crew came in, spray painted numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the buildings and then demolished them all.
“When they moved in, I sat through the whole process watching them tear it down,” he said. “I watched them push it in a hole and bury it.”
Now he lives in a home that was owned by his now-deceased uncle. The home had been vacant for a couple of years. Then Naylor moved into it with few belongings and a full supply of worries.
“Sometimes you lay at night and can’t go to sleep,” he said. “It’s plumb totally uncalled for.”
Another flood victim, 80-year-old Connie Sloan of Elkview, was also pleased to hear the renewed housing priority.
“If they put the money back and they pay the people, people could get some relief,” Sloan said. “They can get on with their life. They can buy things they need to buy.”
Sloan’s house was demolished, but she still pays mortgage and property tax. She lives in yet another house and continues to work part time to meet her expenses.
“I need to get some money back in the bank. I have none,” Sloan said. “Every dime I had in the bank after the flood went for living expenses until I could get this house and what I had left went on the downpayment. I have to get built back up again, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back.”
Sloan and Naylor are both constituents of Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha.
Jeffries put out a news release today indicating satisfaction that Governor Justice is focused on housing needs. Jeffries also said he intends to monitor the situation.
“It’s been nearly three years since the June 2016 floods devastated our region, yet we still have people living in campers or waiting to be reimbursed for having their houses demolished – this is unacceptable,” said Jeffries, who is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
“While I’m glad the administration has now said their top priority is to get people back into permanent housing, I expect to continue holding their feet to the fire to ensure they quickly produce results.”
Senator Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, commented during Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting that he is pleased by the renewed emphasis on housing. Senator Jeffries had proposed the subcommittee’s formation to focus on that issue.
“My biggest reasoning for this subcommittee was to make sure when we leave here that the priorities were changed,” he said. “It was redirected that we take care of our people first, and I think we accomplished that.”