Financial help may be coming to homeowners in floodplain

About 4,000 homes, businesses and garages in La Crosse are in high-risk floodplain

It is still in the early stages of design, but city leaders are developing a program that would offer financial help to those homeowners in the floodplain.

There are about 4,000 homes, businesses and garages in the city of La Crosse that are in a high-risk floodplain.

Those people are paying an increasing amount for flood insurance each year, but the city of La Crosse may finally have a way to help them out.

Director of Planning and Development for the city of La Crosse Jason Gilman said getting the thousands of homes in the city out of the floodplain would have significant benefit to more than just those homeowners.

“I think our floodplain engineer calculated some $120 million worth of improved value in the floodplain, and that’s a lot of public interest in that, of course, to protect that value,” Gilman said.

Working alongside a number of other city departments, Gilman said a four part program is being created, the first would be to use federal Community Development Block Grant money that the city currently has and is used for housing rehab or replacement.

The second is using the $250,000 the city budgeted for floodplain housing replacement in the 2016 Capital Improvement budget.

“So two of the four legs of the stool are already in place,” Gilman said.

The third leg would be a voluntary Point-Of-Sale program.

“If somebody is at the point they’re selling their house, they can access this funding, get the home elevated and get their letter of map revision so that encumbrance of flood insurance doesn’t have to be transfered to the next owner,” Gilman said.

The fourth and final leg would be a Revolving Loan Fund.

“This would be for people who aren’t necessarily ready to sell their home, but they want to access low-interest, favorable-term funding to get their house elevated,” Gilman said.

City council member and Floodplain Advisory Committee Chair Andrea Richmond represents more than 800 homeowners in the floodplain. She believes this program has lots of upside and could help more than just homeowners.

“If we can take that property out of the floodplain, they no longer have to pay flood insurance. It’s a payback to the property owners and to the city being able to increase the property value of those properties as well. It’s a win-win for the property owner, it’s a win-win for the city and the county,” Richmond said.

Gilman said he is still trying to figure out if the Point-of-Sale and Revolving Loan programs would be administered by the city or private organizations. He also said the city will have to decide if those two programs could be grant programs offering some financial forgiveness if repaid in a certain time frame.

Gilman said this program is in the early draft stages as of now, but he would like to have a program rolled out in the early part of 2016.