“After all these months and years,” said town administrator Mark Shea, “it’s almost surreal to say that all three property owners can now move on with their lives.”
In the time it took to conclude the buyout of Holly and Rodney Caruso’s property at 42 School Street, two other properties were bought by the town through the program and have already been demolished. While those properties at 60 and 40 School Street were not bought until October 2013, over two years after the storm, the Carusos faced an extended wait after Bank of America attempted to foreclose on their mortgage. But on Monday, legal counsel for the bank, the town, and the Carusos met in Brattleboro to sign on the dotted line and end the final chapter of a long journey for the family.
As reported in September, the Carusos stopped paying their mortgage after the flood, and a court notice was sent to the Readsboro Town Clerk’s office in February 2013, stating the bank’s intention to begin foreclosure proceedings. According to Shea, this put the FEMA buyout at risk. The town responded by trying to contact the bank, and sending letters to US Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Lahey, asking for their assistance to “effectively facilitate Bank of America’s need to finalize the settlement with the homeowners, thus allowing them to participate in this buyout program.” The town received word from Welch’s office that he could not help them, and the project was left in limbo, and the back of the Carusos’ house left dangling 80 feet above the Deerfield River.
“The owners had to vacate their home due to storm damage, which brings many complications and stresses to a family as it is,” said Shea. “Here they are, with no home, but they’re still required to pay a mortgage on a federally declared disaster, and the bank just would not accommodate.”
Representatives from the bank did not file the correct paperwork in time and the foreclosure case was thrown out of court. According to town administrator Mark Shea, the Carusos’ legal counsel was able to finally reach the bank’s legal counsel and convince them that a short sale of the property would be beneficial to all parties involved. “It took an exorbitant amount of time to make the bank realize that this was beneficial to them,” said Shea. “It was baffling that it took that long because if they had foreclosed on the property, or if it had fallen in the river, FEMA would have walked away and they wouldn’t have gained any money from it.”
Through the HMGP buyout, FEMA will reimburse the town for 75% of the estimated cost of the entire project, including demolition, while the other 25% is covered by community development block grants. The buyout totaled $180,299, from which the bank will receive $176,616 for the mortgage, while the town is reimbursed $764 for unpaid water and sewer tax, and the Carusos will receive the remainder.
Shea said that he is happy for the homeowners and the town that this long and arduous process is finally concluded. “I’m very happy we finally got it done, and so is the selectboard,” said Shea. “I’m happy we hung in there through all the bureaucracy required, and allowed that Vermont true grit to get it done. It’s required that you have to hang on, and it was always a priority of the selectboard to make this final.”
The town will now be able to move forward with the final phase of the buyout program, which will include asbestos abatement of the property, demolition, and turning all three properties into green space. Shea said the green space would most likely be a park with a plaque commemorating the disaster and what the homeowners had to endure.
The town will also be able to turn its attention to a separate project of stabilizing the river bank, which has begun to erode toward the rear of other properties on the south side of the street. The town is seeking grant money left over from the first round of CDBG disaster relief grants to fund the project, and is aiming to mitigate future erosion of the bank from 70 School Street to the municipal fire station. Shea says the town has already begun fielding estimates for the work.
The Caruso family could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.