FEMA offers to buy out landslide-affected homeowners


Rep. Brad Sherman, whose district includes Malibu, recently announced that the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) has provided a grant to several local governments to buy out owners of properties destroyed or endangered by recent landslides. This is the first time FEMA is providing money to local governments to buy out affected properties rather than funding mitigation measures, Sherman said.

The total grant for three properties, two in the vicinity of Malibu and one near Topanga, is $860,500, said FEMA spokesperson Ana Marcelo.

There are a few kinks to be worked out before the money reaches property owners, however.

For one thing, Los Angeles County (which will receive the money from the governor’s Office of Emergency Services) is not yet able to tell the property owners about the grants, said Bill Winter, county Department of Public Works civil engineer. The state has not told the county the money is available or how the total is to be allocated among the properties. “We just know the lump sum,” Winter said. “We are in limbo until we receive that information from the state. Then we can have a more informed dialogue with the owners.” However, he added, some of the owners have left the red-tagged properties without providing contact information.

Another problem is whether the single-family homeowners will accept the price FEMA is offering. The formula of the FEMA allocation is $140 per livable, heated square foot, said Sherman’s legislative assistant Susan Little. It might not be equivalent to the predisaster fair market value. In addition, the grant will be made only if 25 percent of the amount is matched by the property owner or the county. In other words, that $140 per square foot includes the 25 percent “cost-sharing” FEMA mandates, Little said.

Both Marcelo and Paula Shulz at the state Office of Emergency Services say the 25 percent is usually matched by the local authority (in this case the county) but occasionally may be funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or Small Business Administration. Another option, says Shulz, is that the gap between the pre- and post-disaster fair market value can be used as the match.