Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Flooded homeowners face painful choice: rebuild or retreat

Middle Tennessee had to battle floodwaters three weeks ago.
Now, thousands of homeowners forced out of their homes are left trying to figure out whether to rebuild or walk away. Some want to sell their homes to the city. Others want to fight to keep their property and are digging into savings to pay for repairs and other expenses that insurance won't cover.

Those in flood zones aren't sure if their city will let them rebuild.

"We're in limbo," said Diane Sesler, whose Pennington Bend home flooded. "It's very difficult. We don't know anything."

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She and her husband, David, a computer programmer, worry they can't afford both a monthly mortgage on their damaged home and the hotel bill in an extended-stay hotel, which costs them $1,700 per month. The Federal Emergency Management Agency capped their housing grant at $700 a month.

The financial mess has left the Seslers — and other homeowners — facing tough choices that threaten to leave them thousands of dollars in the hole as pressure builds to make a decision.

The Sesler home is one of 3,000 damaged structures within the 100-year flood zone in Nashville. They don't know if they can afford to rebuild at a higher elevation as federal rules may require.

Or, they may be able to seek a buyout from the city of Nashville, which is working on a program to buy several hundred or a few thousand properties in danger of flooding again. But it could take at least 10 months to put money in owners' pockets.

"There is going to be some painful decisions that have to be made," conceded Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, speaking at a bankers conference last week, estimating that some 2,800 people are out of their homes because of the flooding. "This is real hurt, real injury."

Other areas hit by the flooding are grappling with similar issues.

The city of Franklin estimates seven homes might have to be purchased by the city because they were substantially damaged and they sit below the required flood elevation.

Cheatham County put a hold on building permits within the 100-year flood plain until Monday so the county could determine the damage levels to the 430 homes affected by the flood.

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