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posted: 4/21/2013 5:30 AM

To sell or not to sell a flood-prone home?

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Suburban homeowners left out in the cold by Thursday's flooding in the North and Northwest suburbs may be looking at bailing out more than just floodwater after this latest storm.

Selling a flood-damaged house right after a major storm may be virtually impossible for homeowners seeking a way out.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which bought up homes in Wood Dale, Addison and Elmhurst after the 1987 flood, has a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that provides funding for the acquisition and demolition of structures to lessen the impact of future disasters. The grant program is applied for by the state.

Yet, without a presidential disaster declaration, federal funding won't be made available for homeowners whose houses have flooded many times over the years, and again with this latest storm. While it's likely a disaster declaration will be made, it hasn't happened yet.

"At this time, FEMA assistance is not available for the severe weather that recently occurred," FEMA spokeswoman Cassie Ringsdorf said in an emailed statement.

The state also offers flood hazard mitigation programs for homeowners living in flood plains.

The goal of the program is to avoid costly flood insurance payments year after year by buying up flood-prone homes and restoring the land to flood plains, said Ron Davis, hazard mitigation officer for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

"You're not going to beat the river," Davis said. "The river is going to take what it wants. The state of Illinois has been at the forefront of mitigation, especially in buying properties in the flood plain."

Home-buying proposals are "in the works" for Des Plaines, Davis said, noting those applications have not been approved yet.

"We have to do a benefit-cost analysis that tells us if it saves taxpayers money," he added.

Not included in the cost-benefit analysis is the emotional toll of flooding and the suffering it causes homeowners.

"Sometimes you'll get people who want to blame the victims," Davis said, explaining how some aren't sympathetic to people who bought homes near water and then complain when that water rises.

But many of those homes were purchased in the 1950s and '60s, before the flood plains were mapped, and passed on to family members. They didn't flood until development projects upstream added concrete and forced more water downstream, Davis said.

In addition to buying homes and businesses that never should have been built in flood plains, the state has stepped up its efforts to keep people from building in inappropriate places, he added.

"Illinois is probably the best in the country at not letting people build where it is going to flood," Davis said.

Homeowners looking to sell a house with a chronic flooding problem may consult with the National Association of Realtors.

Anyone who lives in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program can purchase flood insurance, which under federal law is mandatory for any homeowner or potential buyer who receives a federally-regulated home loan to purchase a property in high-risk flood areas. For more information, visit FloodSmart.gov.

For ways to reduce future flood risks, visit fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=4654.

Market: 'The river is going to take what it wants,' official says

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