FEMA, St. Joseph County to buy 16 homes for flood relief

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – St. Joseph County is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA to tear down 16 homes that are prone to flooding.

The homes are in the Jewel Woods neighborhood in South Bend as well as one property near Ireland Road in Mishawaka.

The county is providing a 25% match of the FEMA funding, creating a total of $2.8 million for the effort.

The major floods of 2016 and 2018 shook the Jewel Woods neighborhood.

“My house was surrounded by water if that gives you an idea so there was a moat around my entire house,” Kiva Ford, who’s home could be affected by this project said.

“We had 5, 5 feet of water in our basement and our neighbors were telling us that we were lucky because the neighbors on both sides of us up to their joists in the basement,” David Sexton, a neighbor said.

“A lot of stuff got destroyed,” Ford said.

That’s why in 2016 the county started the application for FEMA’s Voluntary Floodplain Buyout program. In 2020, the application was approved.

“The property owners can volunteer to participate, and the local government will then purchase the property and demolish the structure or any of the buildings on-site,” Jessica Clark, the St. Joseph County engineer said.

There are 16 homes, 15 of which are in the Jewel Woods neighborhood and one home on Ireland in Mishawaka.

The land will then be turned into an open grass space and won’t be allowed to have anything built on the property.

“That will then allow the waters to flow and drain where they want to flow and it helps with flood control and issues downstream,” Clark said.

FEMA has earmarked over $2.1 million for the effort and the county has matched it with 25% creating a total of over $2.8 million.

The money goes to demolition as well as buying the properties.

“It is monies that are going back to those property owners that did incur that damage,” Clark said.

The homes are assessed at their pre-disaster land value.

“It allows these individuals, these property owners to recover some of their investment in these properties because they are really not able to sell them,” Clark said.

“I think that a lot of people in the neighborhood are concerned with the current housing prices,” Ford said.

He is just one homeowner facing a tough decision.

“It’s kind of mixed feelings,” Ford said. “To be able to get a fair price for your house and just leave this place behind might be a good opportunity.”

And those who live near one of the homes on the list, like David Sexton, are relieved this is happening.

“In terms of water pressure against our basement walls and our basement floor. It means that the pressure will be taken off as homes are demolished,” Sexton said.

However, both say it’s a waiting game until the appraisal part starts.

The grant is only issued for 2 or so years. Clark said they are already starting the process.

Appraisals and acquisition of the homes should be done by 2020 and demolishing the structures and creating a green space should be done by 2021.

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