“When bad things happen, good things can happen because of it,” Brian Dupont told 30 people at the Cranston Portuguese American Club Sunday. There’s no way Dupont or any of those who met for nearly two hours wished for the March 31 flood that ruined their homes. But since the flood, the neighbors of Perkins Avenue on the Cranston side of the Pawtuxet River have come together in an effort to cope with the aftermath of the disaster and, as many want, be bought out by the federal government. Sunday’s meeting provided an update on those efforts and was a call to stay focused on the cause, although most are back in their homes.
Perkins Avenue and other Cranston homeowners who were flooded out last March met Sunday to review developments to have their homes bought and to gain tax abatements. From left are: homeowners Maureen Casey and Brian Dupont, Cranston Councilman Emilio Navarro and homeowner David Englund.
A Warwick resident who owns property that was flooded out in Cranston, Dupont says he never would have met so many people if not for the disaster. That is a positive outcome to the devastating floods. The actions of the group, especially lobbying for state legislation enabling municipalities to abate property taxes for that period during which a property owner is forced out of their property by a disaster, could have an impact on Warwick property owners affected by the flood as well. Mayor Scott Avedisian is sympathetic to the losses experienced by home and business owners who were forced from properties and suggested that property assessments could be dropped to reflect the lost use of the property. He said yesterday that City Tax Assessor/Collector Ken Mallettee is working with these people on a case-by-case basis.
The Cranston City Council went a step further, approving an ordinance granting the tax abatements. Mayor Allan Fung, however, vetoed the measure. Fung writes in his veto message, “while well intentioned, the ordinance violates existing state law, is overly broad and in my opinion is a short sighted solution that only benefits a few while potentially hurting the rest of the residents in our city from a financial standpoint.” Tony Lupino, one of three council members attending the meeting, pointed out that tax relief legislation would impact all municipalities. As there would be concerns over lost tax revenues, it would likely be linked to the governor’s and the president’s declaration of a disaster. He said legislation hasn’t been drafted although Cranston legislators have voiced support.
Councilman Emilio Navarro advised the group to develop communications with members of the council and General Assembly, keeping them informed of developments via e-mail and inviting them to meetings such as that held Sunday. He praised the group for being organized, and urged them to stay on top of things so they will be in the loop should legislation be put forward.
“You want to know when it [tax abatement legislation] is going to be heard,” he said. “Our goal is attainable,” said Dupont, “Cranston is in favor. Warwick also feels something like this is warranted.” Last month Cranston learned that its application for a Federal Emergency Management Agency Voluntary Property Acquisition Grant to buy 39 homes in the Perkins and Amanda Court areas had been approved. After acquisition, the properties would be demolished and the land restored as flood plain. The cost is projected at $7 million to $8 million. Avedisian said yesterday there has been no corresponding effort to have Warwick houses bought by the federal government.
Dupont lauded the efforts of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman James Langevin in securing the grant for Cranston. “It looks like it’s moving,” Dupont said. He noted that attention is now focused on Washington and that homeowners could be hearing more by the end of this month. The issue property owners are likely to face is whether the offer they receive will cover what they have put into the property or even owe on it. Those choosing to stay, he warned, would likely face dramatic increases in flood insurance. There was some sentiment “to cut losses” and pull up stakes. There was discussion that banks should be sympathetic to the issue by either forgiving portions of loans or restructuring them, as the alternative would be for property owners to walk away from their homes.
“I can hand over the keys. They don’t want it [the house],” Maureen Casey said of the banks. Casey and her husband bought their Perkins Avenue home in 2006 for $175,000. They were among the last to be evacuated by boat when floodwaters rose waist high in the first floor of their home. It took them four months to get back into the house and the heat wasn’t restored until November. They received $41,000 in flood insurance and a $2,367 FEMA grant. Still, that hasn’t covered the $61,000 the Caseys have spent. They owe $145,000 in mortgages. The property is valued at $143,000 although Casey is hopeful it will be valued at $175,000 for the buyout. “You could take out $200,000 and fix it [the house] up and have it happen all over again,” said Perkins Avenue resident Diane Strauss. Amy Sinyei, also a Perkins Avenue resident, urged people to keep a careful accounting of how they spent FEMA grants because if those monies were spent on anything other than restoring a property, the amount would be deducted from any buyout offer. She said the coming together of the neighborhood has been positive. Lupino echoed her observation. “It came from you guys,” he said of efforts to secure funds to assist property owners who were flooded out.