A painful twist of fate is flood victim’s saving grace

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Ivory Brown outside her burned-to-the-ground Horton Avenue home, which she and her late husband, Reggie, had built. She lived there for 34 years.

Seven months after Ivory Brown and her frail, 90-year-old father escaped unharmed from a flood that destroyed her recently renovated Horton Avenue home, she got a call from one of her neighbors.

There was more bad news.

Squatters living in the vacant, water-damaged home had started a fire and all but burned the building to the ground, the neighbor told her.

“I threw my hands up to God and said ‘take it, it’s yours,’” said the 55-year-old widow, who has continued making the $1,300 monthly mortgage payment since the devastating March 2010 flood and the fire that October.

Like many of her neighbors whose houses on the inland, low-lying block were also destroyed by the flood, Ms. Brown didn’t have flood insurance. But it appears that her house burning down might have been a blessing in disguise, as she was insured for fire damage.

And after many months of negotiating with her insurance company, she now expects a check that will not only pay off the mortgage on the Horton Avenue house but also give her a large down payment to build a new one.

That money will make her the first Horton Avenue flood victim to receive any substantial financial assistance.

But a road paved with insurance and real estate paperwork and government bureaucracy wasn’t easy for Ms. Brown to navigate, as she had to prove she had not received government funds for the flood damage.

“It really started to bother me,” said Linda Hobson, a fellow flood victim turned community activist who advocated on Ms. Brown’s behalf. “I said, ‘Ivy, I’m tired. We have to do something.’”

Ms. Brown said she had considered letting the home go into foreclosure but decided against risking her credit.

“You think about it for a minute, but you can’t at 55,” she said.

She’s been staying with relatives since the flood chased her from her home and has continued working for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services as well as for the Riverhead-based Aid to the Developmentally Disabled.

Ms. Hobson and Ms. Brown credited local Allstate insurance agent Beth Hanlon for helping Ms. Brown through the process, though Ms. Hanlon was out of town this week and could not be interviewed for this story.

Ms. Brown’s patience paid off, she said, when earlier this month, she received a letter from Allstate.

She now hopes to build a new home in an affordable housing development which the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership is proposing for displaced Horton Avenue flood victims. The organization has identified several properties in Riverhead Town where it could build, the group’s executive vice president, Diana Weir, told the News-Review earlier this month.

Although the project would be open to all who qualified, preference would be given to about five Horton Avenue families who lost their homes in the March 2010 storm.

Meanwhile, flood victims are awaiting word from the State Office of Emergency Management on a $3.5 million grant for Riverhead Town to purchase the properties, raze the houses and construct wetlands in the area.

If that grant were awarded, Ms. Brown would receive additional money for her uninhabitable property, which she would use to put another dent in her new mortgage, making her monthly payment next to nothing.

And if that day comes, Ms. Brown said she will leave one of her two jobs to spend more time with her four children, six grandchildren and great-grandson.

“That’s my prayer,” she said.

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