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Long-term relief limited for Waverly victims stuck with mortgages on flooded homes

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Posted at 7:41 PM, Oct 19, 2021

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — The deadline to apply for FEMA aid is October 25, but flood victims in Humphreys County say there need to be more long-term solutions when homeowners are left with nowhere to go.

Had it not been for the family visiting that weekend, Makayla Hollis knows she probably wouldn’t be here to tell her story. She was born with stage three cancer in her spine and has been in a wheelchair most of her life.

The water rose within minutes from the creek behind her home to her ramp, making it almost impossible to leave on her own.

“My mom’s husband had to carry me up and out the front door to safety,” Hollis said.

She returned to find her home had washed off the foundation and facing the wrong direction. Cars were piled on top of one another just outside her kitchen. She's now staying with family after a church was kind of enough to build her a ramp. Hollis knows anywhere she moves next requires having certain accommodations, which is what made having her own place so special.

Hollis was told only a fraction of her home was anywhere near the floodplain, so flood insurance wasn’t necessary. As a first-time homebuyer, she believed it and she knows the irony given she works for State Farm insurance.

“My advice to people, know who your team is. Your real estate agent, your bank, your insurance company. Make sure you also do your own research,” Hollis said.

She’s had help from the Red Cross, United Way, and FEMA, but was told there’s not much they can do with help on a mortgage payment.

Hollis says while renters only have to worry about their belongings, homeowners are left stuck with a mortgage and a bank they have to answer to. She says neighbors have considered bankruptcy, but it’s a last resort she’d rather not rely on at 22 years old.

“That’s the hard thing is that there’s nothing here to show for it, even though I’m still making payments,” Hollis said.

Darrell Habisch of FEMA says while they can’t help in the long-term, they’ve managed to get more than $6.3 million worth of housing assistance for the affected counties. That includes reimbursing people for hotel stays, rent assistance, and security deposits on new homes.

FEMA also offers unemployment assistance, as well as mental health services. You can contact any of these counselors through the Tennessee Statewide Crisis line at 855-274-7471 or text TN to 741741. The Disaster Distress Helpline can also be reached at 800-985-5990 or text TALKWITHUS to 66746.

“This is a whole community approach. It is FEMA. It is the state, as well as the local community organizations. So by all means, take advantage of the opportunities,” Habisch said.

While FEMA may be able to put a roof over your head, for the time being, Habisch recommends an SBA loan for the long term.

“Which may be the answer to either rebuilding your home or perhaps filling in that gap with what your insurance pays for and what’s truly needed,” Habisch said.

These are low-interest loans, but for Hollis it may as well be another mortgage. She’s applied but hopes that in the meantime she finds the best solution for her and the home she once knew.

The SBA has approved $8.8 million in loans so far, for the affected areas.

Residents in unincorporated parts of Houston and Humphreys counties are now eligible for additional FEMA help after these counties only just recently joined the National Flood Insurance Program. As of Oct. 14, NFIP policyholders received more than $9.9 million for 93 claims to repair and rebuild a flood-damaged property.

You can apply online for FEMA assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov. You can also call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362.

Habisch says some Tennesseans may have received a letter saying their claim is ineligible for payment. If you received that letter he says you may still be able to change the outcome. There may have been an issue with your bank account information, address, or something that forced the automatic disqualification.

You have 60 days from the date of your FEMA determination letter to write an appeal letter explaining why you disagree with the agency’s decision.