Shore Up: State officials explain loan program for elevating coastal buildings

With some Fairfield residents still rebuilding after Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, a new state program offers help not only with recovery, but preparing for future storms.

Gov. Dannel Malloy introduced Shore Up CT on July 28 in the hope that coastal residents will ready their homes and businesses for future storms, aided by state funding.

“Preparing for and adapting to a changing environment is something we must address over the long term,” said Malloy in his announcement of “Shore Up CT.”

“Up” is pivotal to the program, as loan recipients are required to elevate buildings to heights based on a 500-year storm.

“Today’s 500-year flood zone is going to be tomorrow’s 100-year flood zone,” said Emmeline Harrigan, program manager for “Shore Up CT.” “Sea level rise is coming. It’s documented in Long Island Sound. You are making a significant investment doing the elevation and we want to make sure the investment has longevity.”

Nearly two years after Sandy swamped the shores of Fairfield, some demolished homes are yet to be rebuilt. Many homeowners are still seeking funding for repairs and mitigation. Some beach dwellers are just battening down the hatches for this hurricane season.

“The beach is still very much a construction area,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau said in introducing an outreach workshop on Shore Up CT at the Fairfield Museum Thursday, Aug. 21.

Evonne Klein, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing, said the program’s goal was to “fill the funding gaps left by the federal government. One of the areas in which this might be helpful is if you have a second home and would like to elevate, the federal programs aren’t going to be able to help.”

Loans are for 15 years, with 2.75% interest and a 2.89 APR, according to a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Harrigan. There are no payments or interest fees for the first 12 months, and the minimum that can be borrowed is $10,000, while the maximum is $300,000.

What’s covered

Money dispersed under the program, Harrigan said, is solely for elevation projects on homes or businesses in the VE or AE zones as designated on the Flood Insurance Rate Maps found at fairfieldct.org/content/10726/11028/12435.aspx.

Both primary and secondary homes are eligible for loans, and costs covered include permitting, engineering design, excavation, lifting and construction of  new foundations, utility disconnection and reconnection, duct work, and electrical work, Harrigan explained.

Stairs, railings and code-required landings up to the new structure, as well as handicapped ramps or elevators, will also be covered. Only pre-existing decks and porches will be covered, she said.

Shore Up CT loans do not cover utility service units such as boilers or water heaters, nor can they be used to pay for exterior finishes or landscaping, except in certain cases. If a property is more than 50 years old and the State Historic Preservation Office requires aesthetic improvements or screening to protect the house’s historic integrity, Harrigan said, those costs would be covered.

Shore Up CT loans can be used to refinance the cost of work already done, but elevation projects must have been completed between October 29, 2012, and July 28, 2014, and homeowners must have a certificate of occupancy.

Elevation

For property owners wondering just how high they have to go, the operative word is “up.” Houses must be elevated to the 500-year flood height, plus one foot.

Harrigan explained that, as figured by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a 500-year storm in a coastal flood hazard area can be approximated by multiplying the 100-year base flood elevation by 1.25.  She then walked through a sample calculation of this requirement, showing that a house in an AE zone, with a base flood elevation of 11 feet plus one foot, would have to be elevated to 14.75 feet to qualify for a loan.

“It may be that based on our height requirements this program may not work for everybody,” Harrigan said.
Commercial properties in the VE and AE flood zones need only elevate to the 100-year flood level.

Harrigan pointed out that the higher a building is elevated, the lower its annual insurance premium will be, as flood insurance rates are being readjusted to reflect an actuarial risk rate.

“Congress has attempted to reduce the subsidized portion of the premium rates,” said Harrigan. “The higher we go by every single foot, the lower your flood insurance premium every year. Over the lifetime of a mortgage, that would be considerable savings.”

Some residents don’t mind elevating higher, Harrigan said, as it affords them parking spaces beneath their houses, which she said could be a benefit in crowded beach areas.

Interplay with other grants

 Attendees of the meeting questioned how Shore Up CT loans would work in conjunction with other grant money from the state and FEMA. Robert Coulombe, residential lending manager for the Housing Development Fund, a private nonprofit which will administer the Shore Up CT loans, explained that the money is released in stages.

“Work gets done first,” he said, “then we advance the money.”

When one audience member asked about Connecticut Development Block Grants, Klein noted that Shore Up CT is separate from that program, which gives out maximum grants of $150,000.

“However,” Klein said, “There are instances where we will suggest to applicants, based on their income — as this is going to help low- to moderate-income people, that they pony up with a loan to elevate their homes.”

Tetreau said some 70 applications in Fairfield for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program were pending approval and asked whether Shore Up CT funds could be used as a bridge loan.

Harrigan cautioned that people who want a hazard mitigation grant won’t remain eligible if they begin construction under another loan.

“You have to wait,” she said.

Jim Wendt, Fairfield’s assistant director of town planning, said he has helped homeowners apply for hazard mitigation grants, and hopes there will be more discussion of using Shore Up CT loans together with funds from that program.

“The grant is a reimbursement,” Wendt said. “You need to front the money to do the improvements. I am hopeful that this program will allow people the financial vehicle to help them do that. They didn’t say no. They just haven’t gotten that far yet. I’m confident that the folks that are administering this program will discuss that with the state folks that are administering the grant program.”

There is no deadline to apply for a Shore Up CT loan, and as of now the program has $3 million available, with $25 million approved for future use.

Information about Shore Up CT is available at shoreupct.org or 203-910-2446.

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