VCDC Offers Flood Relocation Funds…to the Wealthy

Dang it, Steve.  The thing is, I really like you, and I think you’ve done good things for the community.

But it kind of sticks in my craw when I read in the Plain Talk that the Vermillion Area Chamber and Economic Development Company is offering relocation funding up to $5000 for victims of the Missouri River flood–that is, if they buy at least 100K worth of house or build a new one [Travis Gulbrandson, “VCDC offers flood relocation program,” 24 June 2011].

What this says to me is that the VCDC wants people who could afford nice homes on the river to bring their wealth to  Vermillion (a truly shocking revelation).  If you had a modest place that flooded out or you lost everything, well, don’t expect a helping hand. The VCDC isn’t offering relocation incentives to young people starting out or families trying to regain their footing in tough circumstances.

I think I have a better idea.  Sure, it won’t make the realtors quite as much cash, but what if the VCDC looked at their priority job development areas–say, food business or light industry or the non-profit sector–and then considered the more modest salaries those people might expect?  And then what if the VCDC decided to incentivize on an inverse scale?

Instead of offering more money as the price of the house goes up, why not offer more incentive as the price goes down?  People who can afford a $100K house probably don’t need a $3K grant, but I’ll bet a young (or not-so-young) person or couple looking in the $75-80K range could be enticed by that figure.  How about a slightly larger grant for people looking in the very modest range–an incentive to help fix up some of the not-so-lovingly-cared-for dwellings?

Now, that would be a strategy that wouldn’t make me choke so much on that final story quote from VCDC Executive Director, Steve Howe–that “…we’re taking care of our own.”

4 responses to this post.

  1. Well Rebecca, I like you too, so as I write a rebuttal keep that in mind. Just two friends at Carey’s having a beer and solving the world’s problems. Where to begin? First of all you have to admit its pretty cynical to criticize the efforts of a private organization trying to offer some assistance to flood victims. To my knowledge the VCDC is the only private organization in the state, region, or where ever to offer any financial assistance at all. There might be others, but I haven’t seen it.

    Let’s be clear on the intent. This program is not intended as a low income housing program. That is a problem we are currently working on as well, but lets visit about that in another post. Our goal with this program is to keep people from leaving the region and buying homes in other states, which is absolutely happening. South Dakota cannot afford to lose any residents. When people are making a choice to find a new home, we want them to consider Vermillion, simple as that. Nothing sinister in that goal.

    Now, why did we choose $100,000? We had to set a basement price so I looked at the income levels and average home prices in the affected areas, then looked at the average home prices in Vermillion and set it well below those averages. I also looked at how many homes are actually available in the market under $100K (very few), and figured $100,000 would more than meet the needs of those impacted by the flood. I’m interested to see the results of your research on those displaced by the flood, but I’m betting you didn’t do that research, did you? I’m right, aren’t I? Come on, admit it.

    Would I have looked at this differently if this was a low income housing program? Absolutely. Can we alter those amounts? Yes. It’s a private program, not municipal law, so we can and will be flexible. These are guidelines.

    Ok, next topic. Why did we select the payment amounts that we did? I made inquiries to our local banks and found out what the closing costs would be if someone bought a house in various price ranges and set the figure above that to help cover some of those costs not covered by flood insurance.

    Look, I know better than most that we don’t have sufficient low income housing in Vermillion. While innocuous Plain Talk articles stick in your craw, the lack of housing options in Vermillion sticks in mine. I guess we all have different motivators. While you’re harumphing about it, I’m actually working on it. Real time, real sweat, real effort. I’m working with our city and others to try to develop incentives or offer assistance to developers to encourage them to enter into that market and build good affordable housing. It’s not easy, in fact its damn hard.

    But I can’t change the housing market with one program, and it’s not fair to jump to conclusions as to our intent towards low income residents based on this one program. We’re just trying to help, so we offered assistance that meets immediate need within the current housing market, and we didn’t create it to address a broader need which I think is your beef.

    But Rebecca, don’t you think it’s a bit naive or disingenuous to suggest that people who live in a $110,000 house are wealthy? Even a $150,000 house given today’s economic conditions? Those are the modest salaried folks you accuse me of not helping. I’ll remind you that we are the only ones extending the helping hand. So isn’t your energy better spent criticizing those that are doing nothing.

    It’s very easy to write a snarky, cynical blog post. Probably took you all of 15 minutes. But do you know what’s hard? Trying to make a positive change in a community that hasn’t grown in 30-40 years. For the last 3+ years I have working my butt off to combat the 23% poverty rate in Vermillion. I’ve been fighting uphill battles to position this community and accumulate the necessary resources to bring in jobs that pay a living wage. If you say you like me, then you must know me, and if you know me you would never suggest that I have not been working to address the needs of the poor in this community. You can criticize the program because it didn’t meet your narrow standards, but when you criticize my motives, I take it personally.

    You can choke all you want on my desire to take care of our own, but I’ll ask you, who are you taking care of? What are you doing to help?

    And finally, I’m starting a new program, Take a Blogger to Work Day. Rebecca, you are officially invited to spend a day with me at the VCDC so I can share with you what we are doing. I’m completely sincere in inviting you. You can criticize with limited knowledge or with first hand knowledge, your choice.

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on July 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Let me be clear, Steve, that I am not criticizing the effort to help flood victims. I applaud that effort.
    I am criticizing the level at which that help is being offered.
    And, I am directing my (intended to be constructive) criticism toward someone who is paying attention, rather than wasting my time on people who, as you say, are doing nothing.
    The democratic process is about dialogue, and I’m glad you’ve chosen to engage in this one.

    You are correct in assuming that I have not done the research you have about prices of affected homes. I do wonder if those who did not have flood insurance can afford the same price range home (or even close) than the one they lost. I do not know if there will be some state or federal assistance in that regard. What I do know is that a $100K home is not a modest home. It’s not naive or disingenuous to say that for most people living within their means in the Midwest and Plains, $110K is pretty darn comfortable. Perhaps there are very few homes in the <$100K range on the market in Vermillion–certainly that was true when I sold my modest but nicely appointed home there this spring, so I don't contest your assertion on that point.

    I brindle a bit at the "low income housing program" language in your response–and I do it from experience. I taught writing for USD as an adjunct-then-faculty member every single semester for seven years, and barely broke $30K in yearly salary. Was that "low income"? No. Could I have afforded a $100K+ house? Of course not. Especially not with a young family and student loans to pay back. Living in Vermillion as long as I did, I know and have known scores of single people and families in the same predicament. Are there any in SD affected by the flood who could make use of your relocation program grants for a more modestly-priced home? If there is one, it would be worth making it possible.

    I think it’s fantastic that you are working on living wage and housing issues in Vermillion because that work is desperately needed. I hope the Plain Talk will report more on those things, too. I am not suggesting that you aren’t working to address the needs of the poor in the community.

    I’m going to treat the question about what I’m doing to help as straightforward. For the last ten years of my residence in Vermillion, I worked to grow a viable market for small and mid-sized farmers–one that also functioned as a way to bring together a fractured community of “townies,” “gownies,” and rural residents. To make a good place that raised the quality of life not just for producers, but for the whole community, and that kept dollars circulating locally. I spent a winter’s worth of “free” time writing grants and figuring out how to make that market the first one in North and South Dakota to accept SNAP (food stamps), so that people with lower incomes had access to fresh, healthy and local foods. From there, I developed teaching materials, wrote articles, and traveled the state teaching other markets how to navigate that system and accept SNAP, and I consulted on the Project for Public Spaces/USDA manual nationally.

    That’s just one of the things I did to help, but it’s one thing I’m proud of. Especially having accomplished it while dealing with pretty constant “uphill battles” on the local government level. And though I’m now a resident of Minnesota, I’m still consulting with markets in SD on SNAP acceptance–and there has been a flowering of that program in SD that I’m pretty sure I can take a little credit for. My current full time job involves increasing production of and access to fresh, healthy, local foods so that small farmers can make a living, we can create landscape-level change toward sustainability, and we can make sure even “at risk” populations have access to the good food we produce ourselves. It’s pretty awesome work–and yeah, it’s damned hard sometimes.

    And, you know, I’m still paying attention to what goes on in my former home of Vermillion, and I’m still engaging with people like you, Steve, and trying to offer a perspective based on my lengthy experience there.

    While I don’t have high hopes for solving all the world’s problems, I’ll be down this weekend if you’d like to have that beer.

  3. Hopefully my pinko commie card won’t get revoked over this, but I guess I don’t see the difference between this and a “save $5 when you buy $50” kind of offer. Would you help more people if you lowered it to $10? Sure. But businesses aren’t charitable organizations and they have to take into account how much additional profit the discount will bring in and how much money they can afford to ‘give away’ in order to bring in more business. Obviously if you lower the floor, you’ll have more takers. And as far as ‘making the realtors cash’ — isn’t this sort of the VDCD mission? Like, literally?

    One question, Steve, if you’re reading these responses. Does the Vermillion NOW fund that this is coming out of receive any public money? If not, I guess I really don’t see the issue.

  4. Posted by lejohns on August 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Vermillion misses and NEEDS you Rebecca.

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