Housing woes beset KS flood recovery

Much of Kansas affected by recent disasters


The flooding in Coffeyville, shown here on July 6, was made worse by an oil spill.
Credit: National Weather Service - Wichita, Kan.

A lack of housing for flood-affected residents is posing a major problem in the recovery from early July flooding in Kansas.

"Our housing needs for lower- and middle-income families are pretty great," said the Rev. Terry Hatfield of First Christian Church in Independence. "We have three to four times more people than housing available."

The severe flooding in late June and early July in eastern and southeastern Kansas prompted a federal disaster declaration for 20 counties. In addition to Montgomery County - which saw 6,500 homes affected including those in Independence other areas across the region were facing serious challenges, said Bob Baer of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Baer said. "A number of people were renters and it's very possible that those houses may not be rebuilt. Where will these people live if they decide to stay?"

As organizations and faith groups from the counties and cities form long-term recovery committees, housing is just one issue. In Coffeyville, residents are contending with the impact of a 72,000-gallon oil spill during the flood which left a hazardous residue on many homes.

Coffeyville Resources Refining and Marketing, the refinery responsible for the spill, was offering to purchase homes "most affected by the flood and subsequent oil spill." The company said it expected to purchase 300 homes.

The program will be voluntary on the part of homeowners with the purchase price based on the property's market value prior to the flood, the company said.

The city of Coffeyville was also organizing volunteers for home cleanup and was providing gloves, masks and cleaning supplies. The city also needs volunteers to answer phones and hand out water to volunteers.

Nearly all displaced residents were reported to be in temporary housing and emergency shelters operated by the American Red Cross have closed. Twenty people who have been unable to return to their contaminated homes remain sheltered at the First Assembly of God Church in Coffeyville.

Throughout the 20 affected counties, church groups and social service agencies were working on cleaning out homes, organizing volunteers and donations and distributing financial and material aid as residents register for assistance.

Among them was the Ministerial Alliance's Contribution Center in Coffeyville, which opened Monday to supply residents with clothing, furniture, appliances and personal hygiene items.

Hatfield said his church members were doing a little of everything, from cleaning homes to helping residents complete intake forms for assistance. The church was distributing donated funds from Week of Compassion and the public to families requiring assistance with utility bills or other needs. They were also handing out flood buckets.

"We did not have anyone in our congregation whose home was invaded by the flood," Hatfield said. "That placed us in a strong position to be able to really reach out to the community. It's been a wonderful opportunity to do that."

He added that at least 75 percent of his congregation has been involved with the response.

In Osawatomie in eastern Kansas, organizations were helping residents of the more than 300 affected homes.

Rob Roberts, services director for The Salvation Army, said some residents were discovering a major obstacle in their recovery.

"People who are getting some (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance - they're finding that the value of their home versus the rebuilding costs are unequal," Roberts said. "They've got a $50,000 home but the home is 60 to 70 percent damaged. The funds they're getting are not enough to hire contractors, so we're going to have to find creative ways to bridge the gap."

Due to powerful storms and flooding from May 4 until mid-July, the entire state of Kansas appears to be in need, said Dee Smith, chair of Kansas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (KSVOAD).

"There are 90-something counties in the state dealing with disaster," said Smith, who also works for The Salvation Army. "It's incredible, and they're all at various stages. The hard thing now is that so many of the agencies are really overwhelmed with all of the disasters we've had. Volunteers are tapped. It's getting harder to pull groups of volunteers together."

KSVOAD has held conference calls and meetings to keep tabs on the organized response around the state.

Cheri Baer of UMCOR agreed with Smith.

"Everybody is so busy and they can't be everywhere at once," she said. "If you look at Kansas, this is all over. [The year] 2006 was quiet for us and now 2007 has more than made up for it."

Despite the challenges, Roberts and Hatfield said residents in their cities have united in the flood's aftermath. Hatfield said he was impressed by how well-coordinated the response has been and was thankful for the assistance from all the national denomination's disaster relief organizations.

Roberts said Osawatomie was "absolutely pulling together.

"There have been huge fundraisers and more," he said. "The community has really come out to help, and so has the entire region. Every denomination - everybody is here. People are donating their time to help in any way, shape or capacity. It's not a he, she, or them - it's us."

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More links on Flooding


Related Links:

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Kansas VOAD

Week of Compassion


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