Breathitt Co. family hampered in search for housing help

valente breathitt housing story
Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 16, 2022

BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Three weeks after floods in eastern Kentucky inflicted severe damage to her home in Breathitt County, Isabella Fugate said she is struggling to navigate the process of getting benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"It's still hard when you don't know what your next step is," Fugate said.

Fugate, her husband, and their three young children are living in a camper on her mother-in-law's property, where their house sits. Her mother-in-law, Wanda Noble, is also the owner of that house.

Noble and her son entered into a rent-to-own arrangement several years ago. Fugate and her husband make payments on the house that goes to Noble, who then in turn makes the mortgage payments to the bank.

When the lien is paid off, Fugate explained, the deed to the house will be in their names.

While the family has received about $10,000 in assistance for "other needs"--including $2,000 for rental assistance--housing assistance has so far eluded them.

"I feel like there's loopholes with everything you try to do," Fugate said.

Fugate said she and her husband presented their situation to FEMA representatives at a disaster recovery center and were told it should not preclude them from receiving assistance. Their application and appeal, however, have been denied.

The family also had a letter notarized by the Breathitt County circuit clerk, but that step did not yield any results.

To make matters worse for Fugate, she was told her mother-in-law would not be able to apply now because that would constitute a duplicate application, deeming them ineligible for benefits.

LEX 18 asked Fugate why her mother-in-law did not apply for benefits from the outset, given that she is the listed owner. Fugate explained that FEMA would likely have denied that request because Noble would not have been able to prove the occupancy of the house.

"It's been tiring and difficult," Fugate said of the process.

A media relations specialist with FEMA told LEX 18 and Fugate on the phone that the agency should be able to resolve her issues. He encouraged Fugate to bring a copy of the deed to a disaster recovery center and explain her rent-to-own arrangement.

Governor Andy Beshear announced Monday that FEMA has implemented changes to try to expedite the process of approving claims. The changes include the ability for representatives at disaster recovery centers to approve claims onsite.