Denied federal aid, more north Mpls. residents may need places to liveby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — North Minneapolis property owners, renters, and businesses affected by last month's tornado won't receive checks from the federal government.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency this week denied Gov. Mark Dayton's request for individual aid. The state has a month to appeal.
FEMA's decision comes at a time when displaced residents are scrambling to find out where they're going to live next.
FEMA officials determined Monday that the magnitude of damage to private homes had not exceeded the ability of state and local governments to respond.
The storm affected thousands of houses in a high-poverty area with a high percentage of renters, many of whom lacked insurance. Under the FEMA program, each individual could have applied for up to $29,000.
FEMA spokeswoman Holly Stephens says agency officials considered the area's concentration of damage, insurance coverage, and volunteer relief efforts. Stephens says the outpouring of support from community groups and emergency workers didn't disqualify the north side from receiving federal aid.
"But in this case, it was certainly very welcome for the community, in terms of them being available," said Stephens. "Did that automatically take them out of the running? No."
Stephens adds that FEMA doesn't compare tornadoes when making the call on federal aid. So even though much more severe twisters have devastated other parts of the country this spring, that didn't factor into the decision on Minneapolis.
FEMA did authorize federal assistance to help pay for public buildings and infrastructure damaged in the storm.
Mayor R.T. Rybak told MPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday the state can appeal the decision, but may not.
"One of the problems with that is that once you appeal the decision on individual aid, it means the other aid is frozen," Rybak said. "I think we have enough of a problem with public dollars being frozen in this state. ... It's really, as we understand, a high bar for us to win that appeal."
He plans to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House next Monday to explore all options toward securing federal dollars.
The state has yet to decide whether it will appeal FEMA's decision.
HOUSING ISSUES BECOME MORE ACUTE
The news came on a day when two situations were unfolding: Social workers were meeting with north-side residents to get them out of unsafe houses, and shelter workers were on the hunt for a new place to put them.
At the North Commons Recreation Center, where the newly homeless have spent the past three weeks sleeping in the gym, workers with the American Red Cross told residents that the shelter was going to close on Thursday morning. The Minneapolis Park Board had temporarily donated the space, but its arrangement with the Red Cross is expiring.
Kathy Stewart says she and her husband have been staying at the rec center ever since the storm damaged their apartment building. The couple has been talking to recovery workers at the shelter to find longer-term housing, but now they're losing faith that will ever happen.
"We've been here almost a month. They gave us a little money, that money is exhausted," said Stewart. "And now they're telling us today, we've got two days to move? It just seems like a bunch of mess."
The couple is reluctant to check in at a traditional homeless shelter because they don't want to be split up. The only option for couples without children is an adult shelter that separates men and women.
Officials with the Red Cross say they're searching feverishly for a new location for their emergency shelter. About 35 people are still using the shelter. That number has stayed relatively consistent over the past couple of weeks, says spokeswoman Lynette Nyman. And that makes this recovery effort unusual.
"What we're not seeing is just a steady decrease, which is what we'd like to see," she said.
Nyman says some of the families that are just arriving at the shelter now were a result of a new round of housing inspections conducted by the city.
Inspectors have begun to check on some 1,800 rental properties on the north side. One of their primary goals is to make sure no one is living in an unsafe home. Social workers with Hennepin County then follow up with those residents to connect them with safer housing options and other resources.
That was the case Tuesday morning in Barbara Valliant's living room on Girard Avenue. Housing inspectors were concerned when they noticed a hole in her attic's roof this week, loosely covered by a bright blue tarp. The hole is so big, you can pop your head through it and see the sky. There are cracks in the ceiling, but for the most part, the house looks in order.
"I feel it's safe. It's safe to me," said Valliant. "The hole is in part of a house that I don't really use."
City inspectors were initially concerned that the tarp was blocking rooftop plumbing vents, which could cause gases to back up into the house, said JoAnn Velde, the city's manager of housing inspections. But Velde says inspectors received assurances Tuesday from the landlord that a contractor would refasten the tarp, so it's probably safe for Valliant to stay there.
Valliant says if city inspectors want her and her 11-year-old son to leave, they will. It's just that she doesn't want to leave her things unattended.
She's also exhausted. The single mom says she spent the first few days at a friend's house, and had to wait two weeks for electricity to be restored to her home.
Social worker Mary Nixon, sitting on a couch next to Valliant, says she's here just for support. Nixon says there is an untold number of residents who aren't even on the government's radar.
"As days go on, we're going to see more of the aftermath," said Nixon. "Some of these people don't have any support, don't have any families. My heart tells me there are folks out there who haven't been helped."
Nixon, a long-time north sider, says a lot of residents feel forgotten — only three weeks after the storm.
(MPR Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer contributed to this report.)
- Morning Edition, 06/15/2011, 8:45 a.m.