WALB Investigates: Homeowners still have no FEMA funding more than 4 years after storms

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Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 10:42 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - It’s been more than four years since the January 2017 storms ravaged parts of Southwest Georgia and forever changed multiple communities and some homeowners are still waiting on recovery money.

They told WALB Investigates that it’s a financial burden to have to pay for their damaged home, plus the one they live in now.

Chris Reetz is a Dougherty County resident who applied for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Christ Reetz
Christ Reetz (WALB)

Reetz walked through her once vibrant Radium Springs neighborhood, which is now lined with vacant homes, to explore the damage.

“The house is totally ruined,” Reetz said as she pointed to her old neighbor’s home. “She had trees in the yard and all of them came in front of the door and we had to try our best to get her out of the house, her and her daughter. Something has to be done. We’ve got 30 families waiting on this FEMA/GEMA buyout and we haven’t really heard anything.”

Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy said the program is to acquire, demolish and return the properties to green space. The cost is about $5 million with federal funding paying the majority.

McCoy said FEMA hasn’t given out any awards.

Reetz said having vacant, damaged properties is a safety hazard for the neighborhood. She’s moved her son back into the home after experiencing several burglaries and it’s a cost burden.

“You know, because financially, having a new house and paying for the electricity and everything in this house, I mean, we can’t afford it,” said Reetz.

Reetz was able to make some repairs through her insurance. She said she spoke to people at the county and city levels, but said she can’t get clear answers.

“We kept getting promises and then every year, nothing happened. It’d be nice if we got a phone call, let us know what’s going on,” said Reetz.

Reetz said she was most recently told to expect some funds this fall.

To help get straight answers, Reetz teamed up with her former neighbor, Xavier Bailey.

Xavier Bailey
Xavier Bailey (WALB)

“Where you contact the local government, they would indicate that they’re waiting on GEMA. You would contact GEMA and they will indicate that you know, they’re waiting on the local government to provide pictures. Eventually, if you keep calling, they have a discussion and pictures get acquired and then again, it goes back into sort of a waiting period with no response,” Bailey explained.

Bailey now lives in Atlanta because his property is completely uninhabitable.

“We still have the mortgage on that house and you know, we’re paying to rent somewhere else because you’re basically kind of strapped to that house until you can find a way to get out from under it,” said Bailey.

Bailey also reached out to Rep. Sanford Bishop’s office, and the president and vice president of the United States.

Trying to get a better idea of the county’s role in the grant process and the timeline, we found Georgia Collier-Bolling, the director of Disaster Recovery and Grant Programs for Dougherty County. WALB Investigates reached out to the county’s public information officer to coordinate an interview with Bolling on several occasions, dating back to March of this year. She said on July 15, that she’s waiting to hear back from the grant’s person.

Meanwhile, there have been numerous updates to the Radium Springs area, including a current renovation project at Radium Springs Garden.

Bailey said it’s a shame he may lose the property in such a beautiful location.

“The house sits on the bank of Skywater Creek which is fed by Radium Springs, which is one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia. You could actually see the fish from the window. It was really a jewel. And recently the neighborhood’s infrastructure has also been upgraded and revitalized,” said Bailey.

“They fixed the park, they dredged the creek, that’s all nice. But when you come out here and actually live here, and then you have to come out and see all these houses, you’re constantly reminded of that day and it’s depressing,” said Reetz.

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