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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

State approves $5 million in funding for victims of natural disasters

October 18, 2007

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— Thousands of Kansans who had to abandon their homes because of tornado and flood damage may benefit from $5 million approved Wednesday by state officials.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and legislative leaders allocated the funds to leverage about $50 million in private development of rental units and help families purchase homes in the storm-damaged areas.

The program is directed toward residents of Greensburg, which was leveled by a May 4 tornado, and flooded areas of southeast Kansas that were hit hard by July storms.

"This is something that will jump-start permanent infrastructure," Sebelius said.

The State Finance Council approved the appropriation from emergency funds in a unanimous vote.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, and House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, brought the proposal to the council, saying that about 3,000 residences were damaged or destroyed by the storms.

"Housing is the No. 1 priority in the long-term" recovery of the areas, Schmidt said.

About $3 million of the $5 million will go toward tax credits to developers building rental properties, and then $2 million will go toward helping families purchase homes.

Both provisions will be added to already existing federal housing programs, according to Steve Weatherford, president of the Kansas Development Finance Authority.

Several lawmakers had concerns that the allocation was being made without the full Legislature's consideration, but supporters of the move said displaced Kansans couldn't wait until the legislative session starts in January.

"It's an unprecedented action but it's an unprecedented problem on our hands," McKinney said.

He said what many families in Greensburg have found is that a home bought for $30,000 to $50,000 years ago cannot be replaced for less than $120,000 now.

The funding increase will help participants up to $25,000 in the construction of a home, officials said.

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