Floodwaters at the Front Door: VT Flood Fund Supports Displaced Vermonters
images courtesy of Ashley Chilson
When the water pushed into the entrance of her two-bedroom apartment, Ashley Chilson knew it was time to leave. “I’ve dealt with flooding before, but I wasn’t expecting it to come through my front door,” she recalled.
Chilson and her 11-year-old daughter made it safely out of their rental at Mann’s Meadow Family Apartments, an affordable housing development in Jeffersonville where 15 people were displaced by the floodwaters that surged through Vermont on July 9th and 10th. Now, almost five weeks later, Chilson is waiting for her water-damaged apartment to be repaired so she and her daughter can move back in. In the meantime, they are staying at her grandmother’s house on a hillside in Jeffersonville that was spared.
Like so many people who were pushed out of their homes by the devastating flooding in Vermont this summer, Chilson is finding the road back to be winding and long. The nonprofit that owns Mann’s Meadow, the Lamoille Housing Partnership (LHP), did not have flood insurance covering the units that were damaged. LHP needs an estimated $225,000 to clean, sanitize, and dry the apartments, as well as to reconstruct flooring, drywall, and kitchen cabinets. Until the nonprofit has those funds, it cannot start the work, according to LHP officials.
One bright spot: The VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023 is working to make Chilson’s homecoming arrive a little sooner. The flood fund has granted money to the Lamoille Housing Partnership to help the nonprofit close the gap between available funds and what’s needed to rehab the Mann’s Meadow units. More funding is necessary, and it could still be several months before the work is complete, but the flood fund grant is helping LHP get a little closer to rehabilitating affordable housing units in a state that had a deep shortage of them even before the flood.
Lamoille Housing Partnership is also seeking assistance from government sources for the reconstruction, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Vermont State Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program (BEGAP), but it’s unclear what funds will come in.
In any event, LHP’s highest priority is to get the units repaired so that families like Chilson’s can move back to their homes, according to Kerrie Lohr, advancement and communications director at the nonprofit. The donation from the flood fund is appreciated, Lohr added, and will help leverage any government funds that come in to fix the flooded units.
Some of the people who were displaced from Mann’s Meadow are staying with family and friends, and others moved into Lamoille Housing Partnership units in neighboring towns. Chilson considered moving but does not want her daughter to have to switch schools. It also looked like she would have to pay more than her $950-a-month rent at Mann’s Meadow, which she wanted to avoid. “I’m a single parent working two jobs,” Chilson said.
She works as a cashier at a local store and as a library assistant at the Varnum Public Library in Cambridge, which was briefly closed after the July floodwaters entered the basement but is now open. The VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund granted funds to the Varnum and other libraries affected by the flooding so they could continue to serve the public, including displaced people who need access to the internet.
At times Chilson has felt discouraged by the dual impact of the flooding and the generally high cost of living in Vermont. “I’m like, can I even stay in Vermont? But I love Vermont,” she said. “I grew up here. My family’s here.”
The flooding damaged more than 4,290 residences in Vermont, including 393 in Lamoille County, where Jeffersonville is located, according to state estimates. The disaster also destroyed property inside homes and apartments, creating yet another financial impact on affected individuals and families and leaving them to sort through a bureaucratic process for potential compensation.
The VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund donated money to the United Way branches around the state, including the one in Lamoille County, which helped Chilson and others who were displaced immediately fill out the paperwork to apply for FEMA funds to help cover the cost of damaged furniture and other personal property. After the help to initiate the process, Chilson followed through and received a roughly $4,000 check for property damage from FEMA. The money is sitting in her savings account, Chilson said, waiting for the time when she has her own place to live again and can replace some of her flooded belongings.
Meanwhile, she’s grateful to be staying with family and tells herself things could have been worse. But it’s been a difficult summer. “It hits me on and off,” Chilson said. “Some days I’m OK and other days I’m like, ‘oh my goodness, I don’t have a home.’”
The help she and other flood-affected people have received, including from the nonprofit organizations receiving grants from the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund, has been a boost, Chilson added.
“It’s been a rough situation but seeing how the community has reacted is really great.”