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Volusia County couple says FEMA won’t pay to ‘lift’ their house

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. — An Ormond Beach home has flooded out at least three times, and the federal government keeps paying for it to be rebuilt or repaired.

The owners asked FEMA to raise their property, but instead, the feds keep throwing money toward renovations-- not mitigation.

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Investigative Reporter Ashlyn Webb found thousands of properties just like this around the state.

In 2016, Lisa and Bruce Chiarizzi moved into what they thought would be their dream home. The 40-year-old home was fully renovated-- steps away from the Tomoka River in Ormond Beach.

“We thought this was it. We were gonna live here forever,” Lisa Chiarizzi said.

But less than a year after the couple moved in, Hurricane Irma hit.

“We took on 18 inches of water,” Chiarizzi said.

The Chiarizzis applied twice for FEMA funds to elevate their home.

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Homeowners submit their application to the county. The county then submits applications it receives as one project to the state for review. In this case, Volusia County submitted the Chiarizzis and other Volusia homeowners in need as one whole project.

The couple’s home wasn’t selected for the grant, and instead, they say, the feds cut them checks to repair the house.

“We couldn’t prove that we were in dire need of them raising our house,” Chiarizzi said.

The cost to lift the house would have been about $300 to $400 grand.

Emails from Volusia County officials then show the county tried to appeal FEMA’s decision. Volusia County officials claimed in the email the state found the project was not “cost beneficial.”

The State EMA’s role is to go through applications from each county to see if they meet eligibility. In some cases, these applications are not selected because they don’t meet FEMA’s requirements.

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The state told Eyewitness News it did submit the project in 2019 to FEMA but it was deemed “Not Selected” by FEMA. FEMA told Channel 9 that the program is competitive across the country.

The region is only allocated so much money each year for the grant program.

“Thank you FEMA for denying our house raising. Thank you very much,” Chiarizzi said standing in feet of water after Hurricane Ian hit.

Five years after Irma, Hurricane Ian hit.

The Chiarizzis took on three and a half feet of water.

43 days later, Hurricane Nicole filled their home with another foot.

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“We no sooner turned around, ripped out everything in the house, started fixing it. We had new sheetrock up when Nicole hit,” Chiarizzis said. “And the water has not gone down to its original level since it has stayed where every time it rains, it’s up to my property.”

After this, the Chiarizzis applied again through FEMA. This time, for acquisition and demolition of their home to avoid the headache of any future flooding and more payouts through the National Flood Insurance Program.

“They’ve already paid out over $200,000,” Chiarizzi said.

Eyewitness News looked through federal data collected through the Natural Resource Defense Council. The nonprofit specifically looked at flooding damage to homes insured through the National Flood Insurance Program.

According to federal data, there are 3,550 homes in Florida that have been classified as severe repetitive loss properties. These are homes that are flooded three or more times since it started being tracked in the 1970s.

The NRDC found 4 out of 5 of those homes have been rebuilt or renovated in the same place without any flooding mitigation.

“Those are homes that have not been elevated, they haven’t been bought out, there’s been no assistance from a federal source, estate source or really anything to help those people reduce their risk,” said Anna Weber, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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The nonprofit found some homes in the program have been flooded more than a dozen times. One home in Jacksonville flooded a record of 21.

“Ultimately, you and your tax dollars are on the hook for rebuilding these homes,” Weber said, talking about the NFIP being backed by taxpayer-dollars.

The Chiarizzis are still waiting a year later to hear whether FEMA will approve their application to demolish their home.

It’s what some of their neighbors have already sorted to.

“That property next door was knocked down. That was an acquisition demolition before we moved in. That’s actually water retention for the neighborhood. And after Irma, that house was bought and knocked out,” Chiarizzi said. “Would you just take this off my hands and let me go?”

Florida Division of Emergency Management says the Chiarizzi’s application for acquisition and demolition is under review. The agency says it has not encountered a cost effectiveness problem for this project.

However, the state said because the structure is over 45 years old, additional steps will need to be taken in the Environmental and Historic Preservation review before the division can approve the project.

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