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Bloomington Council Signals Using Existing Aid Programs First To Help Flood Victims

Bloomington Flooding.jpg
Tricia Brownfield
Bloomington resident Tricia Brownfield told city council members two foundation walls of her home failed during late June flooding. Both insurance and the city denied her claims, and the city condemned the house, even giving a deadline to get the damage fixed without concern about the finances to do this, said Brownfield.

Bloomington City Council members Monday night signaled to staff they would like to use existing aid and improvement programs to help flood victims before considering direct aid from the city. That will come back for a vote next week.

Staff presented information about using $640,000 in zero percent, interest forgivable loan money from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) to help flooded residents regain the structural integrity of their homes, following the late June floods that also created numerous sewer backups in older sections of town.

The IHDA money targets low and very low-income homeowners, though Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus noted the income limits may be more generous than most people might assume. A single-person family unit has an income limit of $52,000 per year. A family of eight or more can have an income of up to $98,450.

The program makes up to $45,000 available for rehab work per applicant, though Council member Mollie Ward noted the $640,000 total would not go very far. She said even if the city set a limit of $5,000 per applicant to allow aid to more flood victims, it would cover roughly 130 applicants and many more than that suffered damage.. The homes must be owner occupied and meet HUD guidelines. The aid is in the form of forgivable mortgages the state zeroes out if the owner lives there for at least five years. The city has been in the competitively awarded IHDA program since 2017.

City staff also will check on the potential use of other programs.

“I think what I have heard from council is interest in some of the programs we have already talked about; the IHDA program, maybe the overhead sewer program, CDBG, see if there are any disaster funds out there,” said City Manager Tim Gleason.

The city also will look into mining township assistance funding and get clarity from City of Bloomington Township Supervisor Deb Skillrud before next week’s township trustees meeting.

This may only temporarily defer the issue of direct payments to residents that has proven divisive on the council, but it will defer it. Council member Mollie Ward had championed direct aid, but she acknowledged it is not a first resort.

“I have no need to spend city money if somebody else is going to pay for it. Absolutely, let’s use state money. Let’s use anybody else’s money. But if we exhaust those funds and we still have a need, let’s have some information about how we can supplement those funds,” said Ward.

Following a wide ranging discussion of the balance between public good and private benefit as a test for use of city taxpayer money, Gleason read the room as supportive of further aid funded by the city.

“And I think quite simply once those funds are exhausted, if they ever are, additional funding would stand ready to provide additional funding to supplement those programs as they currently exist, said Gleason.

Council member Jamie Mathy did not have much doubt the issue is settled.

“I think that based on the people we have talked to, that the odds of us not getting there are slim to none,” he said. “I think that we’re going to be there in about 20 applications and we had 577 claims.”

But that question remains for another day.

“We need to use up funds that exist before we talk about using other money. I can’t promise anything without hearing more specifics, but I’m willing to talk about it,” said council member Tom Crumpler.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify that discussion of a $5,000 limit on awards through the IHDA program was a hypothetical illustration of the limits of the pool of money and not a policy proposal.

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