Creek County fire victims can get advice on federal grant
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Sunday, September 02, 2012
9/02/12 at 7:16 AM
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MANNFORD - Many uninsured Creek County residents who lost everything in the August wildfires will be eligible to receive the maximum $31,400 federal grant to go toward rebuilding their lives by replacing their homes and vehicles.
But the responsibility for making the best use of those dollars sits entirely at the feet of those who will receive the checks.
For those interested in some financial advice right now, help awaits.
An area meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mannford High School Multi-Purpose Building.
"We just want to help people that are receiving a lump sum of money to get into housing and a vehicle as soon as possible," Mannford Town Administrator Mike Nunneley said.
Many residents live paycheck to paycheck and don't even have a checking account, Nunneley said. But some residents could actually come out in better shape than they were before, he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant could put some residents in a position to have enough money to make a down payment on a new home through loans available with the federal Small Business Administration and American Heritage Bank in Mannford at low-interest rates offered specifically for wildfire victims.
Officials are trying to get word out that SBA loans are not just for business owners but for homeowners and renters as well.
Eighty-five percent of wildfire victims statewide did not carry insurance, but officials say that even those who were insured can sometimes qualify for the SBA low-interest loan if they were underinsured.
Elisa Anderson, assistant vice president of American Heritage Bank, said the bank is offering a 15-year, 4 percent loan for fire-loss victims on conventional and mobile homes with no origination fees. They would be required to put 20 percent down.
"If they go the mobile home route, it would have to be a 2000 (model) or newer," she said.
The SBA offers rates as low as 1.688 percent for homeowners and renters and 4 percent for businesses with terms up to 30 years.
Mannford Chamber President Rita Bougher said they want to help people understand the details and expenses involved with long-term recovery, which is expected to take two to three years.
Property owners will have to determine how extensive the infrastructure damage is to their properties and the costs associated with replacing damaged water lines, water wells and septic systems.
Residents will also be expected to reconnect the electricity from the meter to their home.
Anderson said many residents who lived in older mobile homes could not get them insured.
"I feel really sorry for these retirees that had a home paid off, a nice little place and living on Social Security and living within their means, then something like this happens," she said. "If an individual for some reason didn't have insurance and got FEMA money and wanted to build a home - that could be their down payment. This is really a way to improve themselves if they want that."
Tracking of the FEMA grant once distributed is expected to be random at best, and there is concern that some will be tempted to use the funds for purposes other than shelter and transportation.
"We don't want them to blow it," Anderson said.
There is also concern that wildfire victims could fall prey to price gouging, especially those who plan to use their $31,400 FEMA grant to buy a mobile home.
More than $3 million in state and federal aid went out to victims of Creek County wildfires last month.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and FEMA, nearly $2.9 million in housing assistance and more than $207,000 in other needs assistance has been approved for eligible residents.
The maximum grant of $31,400 has gone to 74 qualified applicants since the president declared a disaster on Aug. 22. Nearly 370 individuals and families have registered with FEMA.
The Creek County wildfires burned 58,500 acres, destroyed 376 homes and left homeless 75 Mannford Public Schools students and 30 Olive students.
But Nunneley said the school has reported no drop in enrollment due to the number of homeless students. In fact, he said he was informed that enrollment has gone up.
"It is exciting to know that the majority of them are still here," Nunneley said. "Our demise was greatly exaggerated."
Financial advice meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Mannford High School Multi-Purpose Building, 220 Evans Road
Who: For uninsured Creek County residents who suffered property losses in the August wildfires.
Information: For more information about the meeting, leave a message at 918-865-2000 or send an email to email@example.com.
Original Print Headline: Creek County fire victims can get advice on lump sum
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
A Creek County home lies in ruins following the August wildfires. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World