Temporary SBA center for Mpls. tornado aid closes todayby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Today is the last day for north Minneapolis homeowners, renters and business owners to apply for disaster loans at a temporary help center set up in the tornado zone.
The federal Small Business Administration loans became available, after FEMA rejected the state's requests for individual disaster aid in the wake of the May 22nd storm.
Signs of the tornado are still visible in north Minneapolis, even nearly two months after the storm. Roofs are covered with blue tarps, businesses with boarded windows and tree stumps wait on street corners to be hauled away.
Flora Westbrooks and her husband were trapped in their home of 26 years after trees downed by the tornado blocked their exit. She's come to this Small Business Administration center hoping for a low-interest loan to replace a car she lost in the storm.
"It totaled-out my car," Westbrooks said, "So I need a car and so I'm here to try to get a low interest loan to buy a new car."
Insurance will cover the cost to fix her damaged roof, windows and siding, and to replace a retaining wall. Westbrooks estimates the repairs could cost as much as $80,000 on a home she said is worth about $90,000.
Westbrooks hopes she and her husband will be come out luckier than many of the people who've already come to the center for help.
The Westbrooks are still waiting for loan approval, however many applicants are turned down because they don't earn enough money, said Wade Geary from the Small Business Administration.
"Most of these folks up here are poverty-stricken and we have certain guidelines. We look at the total income versus the obligations: the rent and the car payment and all of that and most of them are being turned down based on their inability to repay the loan."
About 80 people came to the center daily over the past week, but dozens each day didn't qualify because they didn't meet minimum income requirements for household earnings: about $21,000 annually for a single-person household, and about $33,000 a year for a household of four. Homeowners who qualify can apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace their houses. Homeowners and renters are also eligible for loans of up to $40,000 to cover damaged personal property.
The SBA disaster loan program came under fire after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when an Associated Press investigation revealed the program wrongly rejected applications, deleted others from the SBA computer system for no valid reason and required impossible-to-meet deadlines. The same investigation found that 55 percent of the homeowners and businesses who applied for help were turned away. And people in more affluent areas were more likely to get disaster loans than people in low income areas.
The SBAs Wade Geary says those problems are not an issue at the north Minneapolis disaster loan center.
"We have clear-cut criteria for approving or disapproving and if they are in any way borderline we give them a loan application and let the loan officers determine that," Geary said.
The help is especially critical for people with home-based businesses, such as Rip and Vicki Rust, whose business lost power for a week.
"We were out of electric for a week," Rip Rust said, "and she runs a licensed daycare there. And because we didn't have power, people couldn't come to daycare. So we lost a week's worth of earnings and then a bunch of the people.
"After they did get the electric on, the roads were blocked and stuff so a bunch of people didn't come back."
The storm also destroyed their daycare center van. Rust hopes their loan application is approved so they'll be able to pay back the debts they've racked up after the tornado: "Money to keep running on until things do get back together," he said.
The Disaster Loan Outreach Center at Lucy Laney School, 3333 Penn Ave. N. closes 7 p.m. Tuesday. Applications for assistance can be made through the Small Business Administration. City and state officials have also set up several new programs to help people who are rejected for SBA disaster loans.
Minneapolis foreclosure recovery coordinator Cherie Shoquist said the city is helping connect people with other assistance options if they can't get a loan.
"We know that people that are very low income will not qualify for an SBA loan and so we have other resources available to assist them," she said.
- All Things Considered, 07/19/2011, 4:50 p.m.