BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH - Shortages in rental housing are literally pulling Pendleton County apart as residents have to move elsewhere to live.
Fearing some people won't return, local officials are working to rein in the residential flight.
''The city has to have forethought in planning our future,'' Falmouth Councilman Anthony Strong said. ''Yes, we agreed to let people interested in the buyout pursue that, but we also have to pursue additional housing opportunities for those people.''
Pendleton County had a shortage of rental property before the flood, adding a difficult twist to recovery efforts.
When Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials began looking for alternative housing in Kentucky, they found 2,025 available units. Only five of those were in Pendleton County.
Further checks showed that two of the five units were damaged in the flood and two others were already rented - leaving just one available.
That meant the thousands displaced by the March 1 flooding of the Licking River had to go 30 miles or more to find living quarters.
''We have people with three kids in school here and they're living in Newport,'' FEMA recovery center manager Joe Redmond said. ''It's very difficult on these people to get their kids to school, and they don't want to pull them out - especially after what they've been through.''
FEMA recognized the shortage of rental units and brought in mobile homes.
Often considered a last resort, these mobile homes are the first option for many displaced Pendleton County residents.
State and federal officials are busy installing utilities on about 40 acres one mile south of Falmouth for the trailers.
The site will become a temporary community for at least 130 families, who can live there for up to a year, FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said.
As they wait for the units to become available, such renters as Michelle Kenner, who moved from Barkley Street to temporary housing in Alexandria, wonder if they'll ever get back into town.
''The majority of us are stuck right where we are,'' Ms. Kenner said. ''We're not all gonna move because we don't have the option of the buyout. But where are we going to go?''
It's a tough question to answer.
Renters can't apply for a buyout because they have nothing to sell. Only homeowners who lost their primary residence and landlords can participate. The idea is to give those in the most need funds first, Mr. Redmond said.
Renters do receive financial help, but not to the same extent as homeowners. FEMA provides between three and 18 months of rent assistance. Renters also can qualify for individual and family grants of $10,000 to $13,000 or a loan from the Small Business Administration.
After that, they are on their own.
Many might return to Falmouth, renting rebuilt homes in the residential center.
''Odds are prices will be much lower after the flood,'' Mr. Redmond said.
Ms. Kenner wants to know how long that could take.
As the long-term recovery process continues, FEMA officials said they hope local leaders make new housing a priority.
Councilman Strong said the city will be applying for grants ''for I don't know how long'' to fill the housing gap. He said he wants to see new units created, to make sure the county is not caught in another housing crisis.
''There will be a need for all types of housing,'' Mr. Strong said. ''It's a problem if people leave and don't come back. It affects local government, utility costs and the face of the community.''