The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Conflicting numbers on housing need prompt some City Council head-scratching

In City Hall, FEMA, Floods, Justin Shields, Kris Gulick, Monica Vernon on August 27, 2008 at 2:58 am

The numbers don’t always add up. But they all tell the same story: June’s historic flood hit Cedar Rapids hard. It damaged some thousands of homes. It displaced thousands of people. And of that number, some still need temporary housing, and some will need permanent housing.

This week, the City Council was left to scratch its head a little after one of the city’s consultants in recent days had concluded that the city needed 1,000 temporary housing units by the time the snow flies.

On Monday, though, a representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency updated the council on the temporary housing matter. He reported that as of late last week, flood victims in Cedar Rapids and Linn County now were occupying 359 temporary FEMA manufactured homes, and another 152 victims had requested the homes and were in line to get them. He suggested it would take FEMA 10 more days to meet the need and to have all 511 households seeking temporary housing placed in FEMA homes.

This report perplexed some on the City Council, wondering how its consultant, Maxfield Research Inc. of Minneapolis, had said the city still needed 1,000 more temporary housing units, and FEMA was reporting the it had nearly satisfied all who were seeking such temporary housing.

Furthermore, all residents of flood-hit Palo in Linn County who had requested temporary housing had been placed in temporary housing, FEMA reported.

Council member Monica Vernon called the disparity in numbers “curious.”

Council member Justin Shields asked Vernon where she thought all the other displaced flood victims were, and Vernon suspected some entitled to FEMA temporary housing support hadn’t signed up and some didn’t know they could.

Council member Kris Gulick suspected that some are expecting to get back into their flood-damaged homes by winter and so have not signed up for temporary housing. Even so, he thought the gap between Maxfield’s 1,000 units and FEMA’s 511 was big enough that it was worth investigating.

City Manager Jim Prosser said city staff was working with the United Way to investigate under-reporting of needs.

Despite the lack of clarity on the data, the City Council on Wednesday evening will decide if it wants to approve a resolution calling for the city to set a target of 1,000 units of temporary housing to be in place for Cedar Rapids residents by Nov. 1.

The FEMA representative this week noted that those in 13 households continued to reside in the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids, where they chose to seek temporary housing after a first batch of FEMA homes were found to have some mold in an exterior compartment. Those are 13 additional households that will need different temporary housing in the weeks ahead.

This week’s council resolution on temporary housing states that 5,390 homes had varying levels of flood damage and more than 18,000 residents were displaced from their places of residents at least for a time.

Earlier this month, the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, a joint venture of two Iowa think tanks looking at flood-recovery needs, estimated that more than 12,000 residents were displaced in Cedar Rapids by the flood.

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