ST. LOUIS — Months after historic flooding in the St. Louis area pushed people out of their homes, one veteran said he’s not getting the information he needs from city officials.
He told our I-Team it’s costing him his livelihood.
Andrew Schafer said he and his family can no longer live in their home. They can’t rebuild. They can’t leave. They said it’s because they don’t know what their home is worth.
“The city says that it's worth $88,000. I have a VA appraisal. Veterans Affairs says my home's worth $150,000. So, which is it?” said Schafer, an Ellendale resident. “We're in a holding pattern and that'll bleed my savings dry.”
Five months ago, his neighborhood of Ellendale was underwater. He and his family barely escaped. Schafer’s Ellendale neighborhood is located in a flood plain as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I began to carry my three kids and my wife and my three dogs out one by one," said Schafer.
Now, he said he's underwater financially. He doesn’t know if the City of St. Louis will buy his home. Flood buyouts happen when areas are considered too dangerous to live.
“We were not given all the information," he said.
He told the I-Team he felt like the city had misled him.
His problems don’t end there. He said a St. Louis building inspector told him he could fix up his home. Soon after, another inspector from the same office told contractors he hired to stop work immediately.
A city spokesperson told 5 On Your Side that Schafer didn’t submit the building plans needed to get a construction permit.
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In mid-October, the St. Louis City’s Mayor’s Office published this update on the buyout process:
"The City of St. Louis is seeking $1.76 million in federal funding for at least 20 property buyouts in the Ellendale neighborhood which were severely damaged by July’s flooding, submitting this request through the Missouri State Emergency Agency. Funding would require a 25% local match. We remain in communication with the Metropolitan Sewer District on next steps on ways best to support property owners in their recovery."
The I-Team also learned the city is only allowing some people in this flood-prone area to rebuild if they raise their homes by several feet, per federal requirements.
Schafer said he's getting lack of direction when it comes to moving forward.
“And the city inspector who threatened those guys with arrest came by and actually called the police on me to have me arrested for trespassing on my own property," said Schafer.
“There have been ongoing discussions of buyouts both by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While many residents have expressed an interest in hearing more about the potential of a buyout and the details that would accompany it, those details have been tough to come by," said Bret Narayan, 24th Ward Alderman, via email. "Residents still have many unanswered questions. While some in the affected area wish to move, others want to remain."
The 24th ward includes the Ellendale neighborhood.
"Initially, all residents were told that nobody would be forced to sell, however there seems to be a shifting narrative as we’ve now seen some told that they will have to figure out how to raise their properties above the floodline should they wish to remain," Narayan said. "However, according to many residents I have spoken with, that would be a financial impossibility. Ultimately, what people want is more communication…”
“I mean, that's just wrong," said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, St. Louis, 23rd ward.
Vaccaro said over a dozen homeowners in Ellendale have reached out to him about the same problem. Vaccaro said these homeowners were severely impacted by last year’s floods and cannot get permits from the city to rebuild. He said their homes have depreciated in value by at least 50% because of last year’s floods. As a result, they are currently renting places to live, still making mortgage payments on their homes and paying taxes.
“A lot of people over there could end up actually in bankruptcy court," said Vaccaro. “And I'm grateful that Channel 5... are looking into this because these people seem to have gotten lost in the system. The city needs to step in. We either need to buy those houses out in a fair price and move on... If it takes an ordinance, I'd be happy to sponsor that ordinance.”
“I believe the city is going to make it so cost prohibitive and put so much red tape in everybody's way that there's no way you could rebuild even if you wanted to," said Schafer.
National research shows if flood buyouts do happen, it can take up to five years. This means people like Schafer go through their savings, and often, into debt. We reached out to the City of St. Louis for their buyout plans. Right now, they’re working to get federal funding. There is no word on a timeline, but they said they hope buyout plans take far less than five years.
It takes, on average, two years for acquisition funding to be approved for federal buyouts, and five years for property buyout projects to be completed, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"Communities can wait years for federal disaster funds and many lack the capacity to seek grants for buyouts. It's incredibly difficult for many communities to navigate this complex process. Because of this, folks are kept waiting and ultimately their finances can be devastated," said a spokesperson with the American Flood Coalition.