News10NBC Investigates: People flooded in Canandaigua thought state aid was coming, rules got in the way

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — When homeowners who were flooded in Canandaigua in July called the designated agencies to apply for the emergency state aid they felt they were promised, the learned they don’t qualify.

Even if they did, the rules say they could not use it to reimburse themselves for the emergency repairs they had to make.

A terrible storm overloaded a creek in Canandaigua and flooded the homes on West Gibson Street.
Basements were filled with water and mud.

“Here you see the current and it was whooshing!” said Bernadette Soffel as she scrolled through the photos and videos of the flooding around her home.

The disaster destroyed Soffel’s electrical, plumbing, and hot water tank.

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “You probably spent more than a thousand dollars.”
Bernadette Soffel: “Oh, way more!”

The flooding was July 9. A month later, Governor Hochul promised $3 million to victims in six counties, up to $50,000 per home. The official release from the governor’s office said money would “cover the cost of urgent repairs” so homes were “safe and habitable.”

It listed the repairs covered:
– Electrical and plumbing.
– Sump pumps.
– Furnaces, water heaters.
– Refrigerators.

But when Soffel and her neighbors called to apply they were told the emergency State aid was not reimbursable.

Brean: “When you heard that did it make sense to you?”
Soffel: “I was shocked. It was August 14 when she told me that. We only found out about funding on August 11. The flood was July 9. Were we supposed to be without electricity from July 9 into the future not knowing if any state funding was going to be available?”

News10NBC turned the camera on the neighbors in Soffel’s back yard.

Brean: “Does Bernadette’s story sound familiar?”
Neighbors: “Yes. Absolutely.”
Brean: “You heard the same thing, got the same story?”
Jessica Ferguson, neighbor: “Yep, absolutely. The only reason we’re doing okay is because we dipped into our wedding fund.” 

Watch our story on the 82-year-old restaurant owner in Greece who lost his state aid for Lake Ontario flooding because he decided to retire

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The State release said the money was for low and moderate income homeowners but it does not specify that if a homeowner has more than $15,000 in savings or a retirement fund, they don’t qualify. The only way these neighbors found out is when they called to apply.

Jana Constable, Neighbor: “And she goes, ‘Is it more than $15,000?’ I go, ‘Well yeah, I worked there my whole life.’ And she goes, ‘Well you’re ineligible.’ Just like that and your bubble is burst.”

Julio Chavez-Olivera, neighbor: “There’s only one person eligible to apply and there are 186 homes affected. Messed up.”

Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, through emails and phone calls, News10NBC outlined the concerns and confusion of the homeowners with the State Office of Homes and Community Renewal. News10NBC asked the State Office to explain the rationale behind rules, especially the one about no reimbursement.

The office gave me a four line statement that does not answer the core question.

“Within weeks of last month’s devastating storms, Governor Hochul announced a comprehensive package of actions to help New Yorkers impacted by deadly flooding, including up to $6 million in emergency flood assistance for low-and-middle-income homeowners, deployment of State resources to provide insurance assistance and other relief, and securing a major disaster declaration to provide federal assistance to affected communities. The Governor remains committed to supporting New Yorkers impacted by these historic storms and helping them return to their normal lives” said the statement from the State office.

The governor announced State aid for flooding damage in Orange County shortly after the July storms. The State aid for Ontario County was not mentioned by the governor until August 9.

“The concerns raised by both homeowners and Channel 10 are important and valid,” said New York State Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan who represents Canandaigua. “Needless to say, I have reached out to Governor Hochul’s office to advocate since these dollars are being administered through state agencies. It is important that we keep this momentum and make our voices heard”