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Six Weeks Later, Some Flood Survivors Still Searching for Housing

Some of the thousands of South Carolina residents displaced by flooding are struggling to find an everyday place to stay.

by Avery G. Wilks, The State (Columbia, S.C.) / November 20, 2015
A swing set is nearly covered in floodwater on Roundtree Road along the Lynches River in Effingham, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. AP

(TNS) - More than six weeks after the historic rains and flooding, Manndy McKenney still has not grown used to homelessness.

McKenney — a 38-year-old Marine Corps and Army veteran, and a single mother to four teenagers — said she “pretty much lost everything” when rain leaked through the wind-damaged roof of her family’s house in lower Richland County on Oct. 4.

Her family tried to stay in the mold-infested house in the weeks after the storm, she said, but sickness and headaches drove them out. Last week, a private inspector deemed the family’s home of 10 years “unsalvageable,” McKenney said.

McKenney is one of thousands of South Carolina residents displaced by the flooding, some of whom still are struggling to find an everyday place to stay.

McKenney’s family has been living “day-to-day, minute-to-minute” since the flooding, unsure most days where they will sleep at night. They have spent some nights at friends’ homes and others sleeping in the family’s minivan outside their house on Chain Gang Road.

Flood leaves housing shortage

$13.9 million

Approved in rental assistance by FEMA to households displaced by the Oct. 4 flood

9,000

Households approved for rental assistance by FEMA

92

Section 8 housing vouchers given out by the Columbia Housing Authority this month to families displaced by the flooding who are looking for housing

6,700

People on waiting lists for the Columbia Housing Authority’s subsidized housing programs

Making matters worse, McKenney said, her insurance claim yielded less than $2,000, and FEMA initially denied her application for aid. This week, the agency approved less than $1,600 for repairs to her home. Now, she owes more than $32,000 on a mortgage for a home she can’t live in.

“I’m homeless, and I’ve never been homeless,” said McKenney. “How do I tell my kids I don’t have anywhere for them to live?”


‘The need ... is just ridiculous’

Many displaced residents have found assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has helped them find and pay for temporary housing, often in hotels, FEMA spokesman Carl Henderson said.

FEMA has approved more than $13.9 million in rental assistance for more than 9,000 households statewide, the majority of them homeowners, Henderson said.

But some displaced families moved in with friends and family. Others have wound up in homeless shelters in Richland County.

The Transitions shelter in Columbia, for example, housed about 30 renters displaced by the flooding at one point. Eight remain at the shelter, said Transitions program director Lauren Wilkie.

Some local housing leaders say the problem is an already-existing shortage of low-cost housing that has been exacerbated by the flooding.

Nancy Stoudenmire, the Columbia Housing Authority’s planning director, said she has issued nearly 220 Section 8 housing vouchers this month to families looking for somewhere to live. Ninety-two of the families had been displaced by flooding and are unable to return to their homes, she said.

Waiting lists for the Columbia Housing Authority’s two subsidized housing programs include a combined 6,700 people, Stoudenmire said. “The need for affordable housing is just ridiculous.”

The housing search is even more difficult for families who only can look in a specific area near schools, jobs or health care, said Anita Floyd, a United Way of the Midlands’ vice president.

“If you have your life arranged around child care, a job or whatever, and you can’t find any housing in that area, then you’ve already added stress to that burden of finding a place to live,” Floyd said.

McKenney, for example, said she hopes to find a place close to her teenagers’ schools in Columbia.

Some groups and agencies are offering help with finding housing. The state Housing Finance and Development Authority is using schousingsearch.com to connect property owners and potential renters online.

The agency made calls to property-management companies after the flooding to update its list of available properties and ran advertisements in hard-hit counties to get the word out about the free service, said spokesman Clayton Ingram.

Ingram said the agency’s website saw a 453-percent increase in traffic from September to October.


‘We can’t find anything’

Even with help from friends and other groups, McKenney said her weeks-long housing search has left her empty-handed and frustrated.

“We can’t find anything,” she said. “We’re trying to stay positive.”

For the past few days, McKenney and her teenagers have lived out of a hotel room, paid for in part by a homeless veterans program. McKenney estimates she will be able to afford it for just a few more days.

On Wednesday, FEMA approved nearly $2,600 in rental assistance to McKenney and gave her a list of apartment complexes to contact.

McKenney said none of the three complexes she had checked with by Thursday had any available apartments. She said she doesn’t know where her family will go when it has to leave the hotel or what they will do when the rental assistance money runs out.

“I have no idea. I don’t know what I’m doing,” McKenney said. “I’m kind of frustrated at this point.”

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©2015 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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