Stephen Cutlip had only been living in Mendon for several weeks when he was displaced last summer by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
Following the August flood, he lived in a series of motels then spent three months in transitional housing in Northfield for military veterans.
“My place was trashed,” Cutlip said of his home along U.S. Route 4 in Mendon.
Now, Cutlip has a newly renovated apartment where he can live for the next 11 months rent-free while he seeks permanent housing. For the 67-year-old Navy veteran and retired teacher, the second-floor apartment above Barre’s Main Street is ideal.
One of his new neighbors is Ann Marie Bolton, who was displaced from a mobile home park in Berlin when the flood destroyed their home. Bolton said she and her middle-school-aged daughter lived in Montpelier for a time but now they can look for a permanent home without worrying.
Cutlip and Bolton are two of five families taking advantage of a program by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that paid about $69,000 to bring the old building up to code so it could serve as temporary housing for Vermonters displaced by the storm.
It is the first time in New England where FEMA has paid to renovate rental housing so it could provide a temporary home for people displaced by flooding.
Most people have since found permanent places to live; others are living in rental housing paid for by FEMA until they can return to their homes. But FEMA’s Albert Ferri said that Washington County, where more than 220 homeowners were displaced, had a shortage of rental housing.
“For some, we needed an alternative,” Ferri said Wednesday. “This was an excellent program and an excellent alternative to try here in New England where at many times the traditional trailer program that we have … doesn’t work very well in this climate or in the communities that we have here.”
Thousands of homes across Vermont were damaged or destroyed by flooding from Irene and thousands of people were forced from their homes. In Washington County alone, 154 mobile homes and almost 400 stick-built homes were severely damaged or destroyed by the flooding.
Photos of the Main Street building showed parts of it needed renovation before it could be made habitable for those being helped by FEMA. The Barre project is considered a pilot project for the New England region. There are no similar projects in the works.
“We had to search pretty hard to find this property,” Ferri said.
The owners of the building agreed to make the repaired rental units solely available to disaster survivors for up to 18 months from the date of the disaster declaration that followed the storm.
While five families are living in the building now, other families displaced by Irene will be able to move in after those there now find permanent housing. Ultimately, it’s expected the building will serve as temporary housing for about 15 families.
Cutlip said he moved into the one-bedroom apartment last week. “It’s a place to come to, to get back on my feet,” he said.