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January 11, 2024

$1M distributed through Hartford flood fund; $4M remains

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR Comptroller Sean Scanlon and Hartford Mayor Arunan Arulampalam converse as State Senator Doug McRory speaks to the press about about the Hartford Flood Compensation Program.

Shirley Surgeon stood in her basement Wednesday morning and rejoiced at what wasn’t there: water, sometimes up to her ankles from flooding. It’s been common in her Adams Street neighborhood.

But that was before a brand new sump pump was installed in the basement of her three-story house last month as part of the Hartford Flood Compensation Program.

“I can put away my galoshes,” Surgeon said in an interview in her basement. “I don’t need them to wade into my basement after a storm anymore.”

As the newly elected president of Hartford’s City Council, Surgeon was one of many politicians who spoke Wednesday at a press conference at the Parker Memorial Community Center to spread the word about the Hartford Flood Compensation Program that Comptroller Sean Scanlon’s office is overseeing.

The program, which the state legislature launched with $5 million, is designed to provide direct flood relief to Hartford’s North End residents.

It was a piece of the $170 million project that Gov. Ned Lamont, federal and state officials announced last summer to deal with systemic flooding issues in the city’s North End.

Residents started applying for funding from the program as of Sept. 1, after Lamont appointed Gary Rhule to be the administrator of the fund.

Scanlon said Wednesday that in that roughly three-month period, the fund has handed out just over $1 million to the 100 homeowners who have had their flood applications approved.

“A million dollars has gone out so far to people who have been waiting for a very, very long time for a little bit of relief,” Scanlon said. “And so the message today is from my perspective, that we’re really proud of the start that we are off to, but that we want folks to know there is still $4 million left in this fund.”

Scanlon said so far there have been 348 applications for flooding relief filed, and 303 of those applications have been deemed eligible for funding.

Once an application gets initial approval, the resident must make an appointment with one of the three companies hired to review the applications and place a monetary value on them before sending it back to Rhule for final approval.

Scanlon said of those 303 that have been approved, about 120 have had inspections done or are in the process of getting one done.

One of the issues so far with the program is that only Hartford residents are eligible to receive funding, which some residents and North End activists have said excludes many of the business owners along Albany Avenue who don’t live in the city but pay taxes here.

They sent a letter to Speaker of the House Matt Ritter with a list of changes, including adding more money and changing the eligibility requirements. 

Among the changes they seek: Open the fund to business owners, particularly along Albany Avenue, who live out of town.

Scanlon said that about 10-15 businesses or churches have received money so far from the fund. 

“What we’ve told them is if you don’t live in Hartford but you own property here, or if you own a business here but you don’t live here, you should apply,” Scanlan said.

“Give us an example of what the needs are. And depending on how much money we have left in the program, we can assess whether it’s possible for us to help them,” he added.

The Blue Hills Civic Association has spearheaded the effort in the North End to make people aware of the program and help them fill out applications. CEO Victoria Fennell said an outreach team has been going door-to-door throughout the area and has been doing everything from bringing applications to senior centers and churches to door-to-door service to their offices for elderly residents who don’t drive.

“We’ve seen many residents, and we’ve seen a wide range of emotions, sadness, confusion, anger, and ultimately relief and many leaving with smiles and an understanding of the next steps in the process,” Fennell said.

Fennell said the biggest issue is making sure applicants have proof of residency.

But many streets in the North End are full of renters living in triple-deckers, while the actual homeowner lives in another town.

Surgeon’s basement, which usually floods during heavy downpours, was almost completely dry after early January’s snow and rain.
Surgeon said that on her street alone, only five of the 35 homes are owned by the people living in them. The rest are owned by investors, many of whom live out of town and aren’t eligible for the funds, she said. The situation leaves many residents who are tenants in these homes to suffer.

“We need to reach out to investors who aren’t eligible to get a sense of if they would participate if they could,” Surgeon said. “The Hartford residents who live in these homes are the ones being impacted, because they still have to deal with the flooding.”

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