I am excited to report that the garage I’ve complained about to the city, my family, friends, and neighbors on the 1400 block of 4th Street NW is finally gone. It will no longer serve as a convenient dumping ground and I will never have to wake up to the sound of demolition again. The demolitions are done around me! The only remaining structures are blocks away from my house and I hope that I don’t have to hear them.
You would think I would be happy that this is almost over and that these rotting structures will finally be gone and I am. But I am still very unhappy about what happened to the west bank and I wonder how many people felt like they went from evacuation to eviction?
Before the flood we were undergoing intense inspections by the city because our community was approved for Weed and Seed money from the Community Capacity Development Office out of the Department of Justice. My neighbors and I were working hard to have everything perfect for the city inspectors but then flood came on June 11, 2008. Our final inspection was supposed to happen on June 17, 2008 but it never did and we were denied volunteers from the Weed and Seed program by Bruce Vandersanden, program coordinator at the Sixth Judicial Department of Correctional Services. I was on the Weed and Seed Committee as a representative from my neighborhood association when I complained to Gary Hinzman about the houses that have been denied all help at an unrelated board meeting where he told Bruce to “make it right”, but that never happened. In fact, in front of a room full of people Bruce told me that “it wasn’t ever going to happen”.
Operation Weed and Seed is a joint federal, state and local coordinated law enforcement and community initiative that aims to prevent, control and reduce violent crime, drug abuse and gang activity in targeted high-crime neighborhoods across the country. The Weed and Seed strategy recognizes the importance of integrating law enforcement with social services and the private sector on federal, state and local levels to maximize the impact of existing programs and resources.”
Sponsored by the United States Department of Justice and under the local leadership of the United States Attorney, the strategy involves a two-pronged approach. First, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors cooperate in “weeding out” criminals who participate in violent crime, gang activity, drug use and drug trafficking in targeted neighborhoods. Second, “seeding” brings a variety of human services to the area, restoring it through social and economic revitalization.”
The city lied to all of us about flood protection, they lied to us about the buyouts, and they continue to lie to us about being bound by FEMA. The city applied for the buyout program. The buyout program was voluntary . If we were truly in danger FEMA would have declared our city unsafe and there would have been an “involuntary buyout”. FEMA did not destroy our city- city officials destroyed our city and used FEMA money to do it! In a Gazette article labeled: Property owners refuse to leave Cedar Rapids flood plain dated August 16, 2009 it said: “They plan to use $27 million in federal money to buy out property owners and create a city park or wilderness trail along the river. A levee built by the Army Corps of Engineers will separate remaining neighborhoods from the greenway and provide protection from another surge.” They also claim in the same article that: “The city has said it won’t use eminent domain to force the property owners off their land. But the Army Corps of Engineers could designate the properties as risks to the flood-protection system and force the owners to sell for pre-flood assessed values plus improvements. Fournier said that would be a last resort.”
What the Gazette didn’t report at that time was that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) did not approve any flood protection for the west bank because it didn’t meet the required guidelines. There is no property left on the west bank of the Cedar River therefore it does not meet the monetary specifications that are required for the USACOE to approve flood protection. The specifications include a cost to benefit ratio. Because the neighborhood was flattened there is no property value to protect therefore, no flood protection.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers also told me directly and on record (in a questionnaire) that they were not interested in buying our home now or ever. At a different United States Corps of Engineers meeting the I attended I informed one of the men from the United States Army Corps of Engineers that we were told by the city and news outlets that they needed our houses out of the way so that they could implement flood protection for the west bank. I was told by this man that this was not only wrong but it’s illegal. He said “saying that qualifies as coercion in a voluntary property acquisition” by FEMA.
Another thing that the Gazette failed to report is that “eminent domain” can “never” be declared because it was a “voluntary property acquisition”. Question number seven on the “Corridor Recovery” site clearly states this as a fact:
7. Is the City going to force me to sell my property?
No. This is was a voluntary property acquisition process. When using FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, the City cannot use eminent domain to acquire properties.
The five year anniversary of the flood is coming up and that is a huge milestone for some of us. There is a small group of us in the greed-way that stuck it out and decided that the city’s buyout offer was not only ridiculous but it is a farce! Who in their right mind would want to take a $66,000.00 loss because of one flood? The city offered us $14,000.00 for our property and $0 for the house! This was the first flood my house has ever been through and we have flood insurance why would we sell out? The National Flood Insurance Program which is also known as FEMA and anyone who received money from the National Flood Insurance Program or FEMA was required by the City of Cedar Rapids to “pay back” any and all FEMA money they received in the buyout. Meaning a lot of people took losses.
If you’ve never heard of the term Disaster Capitalism I suggest you look it up. In a neighborhood meeting Chuck Swore was confronted by Mike Augustine who asked him where all the money was coming from for all these projects because the city seemed to be spending federal tax money like it was free money.
In summarizing his statement Chuck Swore said that we’d probably be alright without FEMA but since the money was there and available to the city, “they used it as if it were free money”. FEMA money for communities is not meant to be used in the way it was used in our community. Those of us who dealt with FEMA and the city were told “not to expect FEMA to “make people whole” yet, everything was ripped down to make way for new and supposedly with FEMAs blessing. Communities that have been hit by disasters of their own have called on Cedar Rapids to ask for recovery advice and that’s not good. Communities impacted by disasters would be better served if they were required to follow the Property Acquisition Handbook provided on FEMAs website. Had FEMA handed these guides out to victims in Cedar Rapids when they were in town it would have saved America millions and millions of dollars.
Houses that were rebuilt and lived in after the flood continue to find their way to the dump while the city complains that there isn’t enough affordable housing. If there isn’t enough affordable housing then why are renters being relocated so that the affordable housing we do have can be demolished? What is going on around here?
We must demand reform or FEMA will systematically allow a few people to exploit them while destroying everything in it’s path!