Levy pushing plan that would give county land to flood victims

VERA CHINESE FILE PHOTO | FEMA officials tour Horton Avenue to view the aftermath of the March storm.

Linda Hobson has been staying in a mobile home after her life was tossed upside down — her home and belongings were destroyed during a monster rainstorm in late March that flooded her street, Horton Avenue in Riverhead.

The house of her neighbor, Ivory Brown, was nearly burned to the ground after a fire started, presumably by squatters, in the vacant and flood-damaged structure in October. And several other families are realizing that returning to their beloved neighborhood might never be an option.

Ms. Hobson, Ms. Brown and the remaining displaced residents of Horton and Osborn avenues will have to wait until spring to know whether financial help from the federal government is on the way. But in the meantime, the News-Review has learned that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is in talks with Long Island Home Builders Care Inc. (LIHBC), the charitable branch of Long Island Builders Institute, to build at least five low-cost homes — preferably on county-owned land — for flood victims.  County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) has also introduced a resolution in the legislature that, if adopted, would put those affected by the flood and other natural disasters at the top of the list for the county’s affordable housing program.

“So far, they have been quite receptive,” Mr. Levy said of the nonprofit group. “We hope to assist these people in their time of trouble.”

LIHBC is currently building four affordable homes for returning veterans on donated land in Brookhaven Town. The homes will be constructed using low-cost and volunteer labor. The houses will be sold to returning vets at a price well below market value, according to Lois Fricke, the director of development for LIHBC.

“We’re hoping to be able to do the same [for flood victims] depending on what money is available,” she said, adding that her group will likely meet with county officials after New Year’s Day.

Mr. Levy said the county could use land that has been seized for failure to pay taxes. The land would preferably be in the Riverhead area, he added.

Earlier this year, Riverhead Town and Suffolk County submitted a joint application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking a $3.6 million competitive grant to prevent such a flood from happening in the future. That money would be used to purchase properties in the low-lying, flood-prone area to convert the parcels into swampland.

Mr. Levy and town officials have said town and county officials will not know until April if the flood victims and the municipalities will receive assistance.

Mr. Romaine, who has met with Ms. Hobson and other victims several time since the flood, noted that the county and town have been denied FEMA assistance during an earlier round of grants, which is why he is looking toward affordable housing for victims.

“If you’re waiting for the grant, what happens when that money doesn’t come through,” he said.

Ms. Hobson, a flood victim turned community activist, said she remains hopeful that FEMA funds will come through, but agreed with Mr. Romaine that looking to other options is imperative.

“We’re not sure if we can put all of our eggs in that one basket,” she said.

Ms. Hobson stressed the importance of all levels of government working together to find a solution.

Though government financial assistance is still uncertain, Ms. Hobson has helped raise thousands of dollars and secure emergency housing, clothing and household items for her fellow victims since the flood.

“I think on a personal level, this incident has caused me to grow. Certainly to become a better community advocate,” she said. “It has caused me to embrace my neighbors. We have continued to maintain contact. We continue to meet every couple of weeks.

We continue to meet the needs of the people. That’s been my goal.”

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