Volusia residents trying to protect homes from future floods find FEMA grants daunting

Help to raise homes is there through several grants

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Lisa Chiarizzi says every time it rains, water comes right up to her pool deck. She and her husband, Bruce, bought their house close to the Tomoka River 9 years ago hoping it would be their forever home. Since then, she says it’s flooded three times.

“The river was in my house,” said Chiarizzi.

Chiarizzi says the first flood came after Hurricane Irma in 2017. It happened again after Hurricane Ian and then again after Hurricane Nicole.

She showed our News 6 crew around her property, pointing out how the water rose 3 and a half feet inside her family’s home.

“I was standing above my knees in water, and everyone was all over South Florida helping them,” said Chiarizzi.

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She hoped for help raising her home, like her neighbors across the street. With Volusia County’s assistance, her family has applied for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program twice and told News 6 they were denied both times.

“Do I rebuild?” asked Chiarizzi. “Do I put all of my assets into this? Do I buy another house? Do I pay two mortgages? And, when I call the state, they don’t have answers.”

Mitigation meetings held at Volusia County’s Operation Center Wednesday aimed to reach homeowners directly and connect state and local leaders with what they need to apply for funding on a homeowner’s or business’s behalf.

“Most of the inquires we got were from Volusia and Lee County,” said Kristin Lentz with Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. “We saw a need to come check in and make sure we’re supporting as much as we can.”

Packets given out at the sessions served as a guide for residents seeking mitigation project funding. They are also a reminder of how complex the process can be.

Mitigation funding may be available, but each community is different, and options may vary. Types of assistance include FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA), and the state of Florida’s Hurricane Loss Mitigation Program (HLMP.)

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management says the grant programs are not meant to be for emergency repairs. Instead, they are a way to mitigate and make communities more resilient to future disasters.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program works as a cost reimbursement grant. Typically, FEMA will pay for 75% of the home repairs, with the remaining cost being split between the homeowner and the city or county that applied on their behalf.

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management says applying for this assistance is a process, but it is a priority after Volusia County was hit hard by hurricanes in 2022. Once a local government applies, it may take more than a year for the project to be reviewed, approved, and authorized to begin.

Chiarizzi fears the help she needs will come too late, as she waits and wonders when the next storm will hit.

“I’m very blessed because I have some savings, but there are people with no money in the bank. What are they doing?” asked Chiarizzi. “And here we’re being told that South Florida got it a lot worse, just be patient. It’s very easy to say, ‘be patient.’ The only thing I’m being patient about is waiting for next year to see if I flood again.”

To learn more about the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants, head to the FEMA website.

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About the Author:

Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.