Rebuilding Gatlinburg

When the flames were finally controlled, 16,000 acres were burned and more than 2,000 buildings – many of them homes – were damaged or destroyed.  The region looked towards reconstruction and the Appalachian Service Project (ASP) looked for ways to help.

They found it with FHLB Cincinnati’s Disaster Reconstruction Program (DRP). This voluntary program was introduced in 2012 to better meet the needs of members when natural disasters affect their communities. DRP helps affected households with purchasing, constructing, or repairing their primary residence. Grants of up to $20,000 are available to homeowners who meet income limitations in declared disaster areas, and renters who meet income limitations can qualify for $5,000 toward the purchase of a home.

The path to renewal

Having previously used DRP to help survivors of tornadoes in rural Kentucky and those displaced by floods in Johnson City, Tenn., ASP looked at how they could leverage FHLB’s disaster funding to help reconstruct Gatlinburg.

“DRP provided the foundation from which we can put together a financial model that makes recovery work,” said Walter Crouch, CEO of ASP.

Mr. Crouch and his team started the process by partnering with the Bank of Tennessee and attending a forum on DRP funding put on by FHLB’s Housing and Community Investment Department.  With the details in hand, ASP looked for additional funding sources to help complete the projects.

“We are thankful to the Board of Directors for establishing this voluntary fund. It allows us to play a part in getting funds to where they are needed most in the time of disaster,” Stephen Dixon, Senior Vice President and CRA Officer, Bank of Tennessee.

In total, the organization is committed to building 25 homes in the affected areas. Nineteen homes are currently being constructed using DRP funds, while two additional homes are being built with FHLB’s Affordable Housing Program grants. The process for funding is simple and streamlined with the Bank of Tennessee often receiving funding within 48 hours of initial request.    

Steady progress

To date, seven homes have been completed with DRP funds in Gatlinburg. In the coming months, a number more will also reach completion. While all of those benefitting from the newly constructed homes were affected by the fires in Gatlinburg, Wanda Tippie is also a first-time homeowner.

“We would love to turn more renters into homeowners. DRP is one of very few programs that sets aside funding to benefit renters in this way,” Mr. Crouch said.

As ASP continues to respond to the disaster reconstruction needs of those in FHLB’s district, DRP will remain an important tool in making progress a reality.

“Knowing that we have Disaster Reconstruction Program in the midst of the devastation, gives us the place to start as we begin to help the communities affected look forward,” Mr. Crouch said.