WHITTIER — Nearly half of 1,750 homeowners around the earthquake-torn Uptown area report that they have been turned down for government disaster relief loans, and 75% say their needs are not being met by existing relief programs, according to a survey completed this month.
Major earthquake damage was reported by about 45% of the homeowners contacted in the area and 43% reported minor damage, based on results of a door-to-door survey conducted by the Christian Reform World Relief Committee, a disaster relief group that has been in Whittier since the week of the Oct. 1 earthquake.
Lou Vandenberg, the committee's manager in Whittier, said the average annual income in the survey area is $10,000 to $15,000 per household. More than half of those surveyed were senior citizens who own their homes or have low mortgage payments, he said.
"Especially in the lower income brackets, people feel the assistance they are going to receive or have received is not sufficient," Vandenberg said.
Repayment Ability Is Limited
Richard Andrews, assistant director of the governor's Office of Emergency Services, said it is not surprising that a high percentage of senior citizens has been denied loans "since they are on fixed incomes and that is a factor in repayment ability."
But he said those whose loan applications are denied then become eligible for grants or deferred loans through federal, state and local relief programs.
The survey identified more than 180 needy households, and the Christian Reform World Relief Committee is working with Whittier religious leaders to assist them and others.
A new avenue of assistance is the Whittier Interfaith Earthquake Response Committee, which was scheduled to open a relief office this week at St. Matthias Episcopal Church at Washington Street and Wardman Avenue. Organizers said they hope the office will serve as a clearinghouse for earthquake-related information and services to replace the federal disaster relief center that is scheduled to close Saturday.
Kenneth Daugherty, director of the new office, said the homeowner survey shows "we're not meeting the needs of the people. Here we are at the end of two months and many people haven't even begun to receive help."
The new office will operate under guidelines established by the Whittier Interfaith Earthquake Response Committee, a group of clergy who have met weekly and drafted a program that received more than $70,000 from state and national religious organizations. Services will be offered in four areas, said the Rev. Geoff Nelson of Whittier Presbyterian Church, who is the chairman. It will:
Help people deal with agencies, paper work and legal problems in the earthquake recovery process.
Coordinate counseling for earthquake victims and train people to help conduct more therapy sessions. About 60% of homeowners surveyed said they have not recovered emotionally from the earthquake.
Create an information referral service using news media and churches.
Award small grants to needy residents.
In addition, the Christian Reform World Relief Committee will have a crew of about 10 carpenters in Whittier to provide free construction work for residents whose loans or grants were large enough to pay for materials but not labor. Vandenberg estimates there is enough work to keep the crew in the area for about a year.
Daugherty said the earthquake assistance office will target two groups he believes have not been well-served: senior citizens and Latinos.
About 21% of Whittier residents are older than 55, and Daugherty said many homebound senior citizens remain unaware of available help.
"These people really don't know what their rights are," said Daugherty, a former director of a Whittier retirement center. "And in many cases they can't get money because they have no way of paying it back."
He said he plans to reach senior citizens through area churches and by training volunteers from local service organizations and churches to conduct periodic door-to-door assessments.
To assist the Latino community, which makes up about 20% of Whittier's population, Daugherty wants to solicit Spanish-speaking volunteers from churches and pair them with trained door-to-door evaluators.
But Dougherty's first task is to tackle the list of 187 residences already identified as needing help by the Christian Reform Relief Committee.
The 60-member committee is an arm of the Christian Reform Church based in Grand Rapids, Mich., which has about 350,000 members in the United States and Canada, Vandenberg said. Volunteers from the church also assisted after earthquakes in Coalinga, Calif., and after hurricanes in the South, he said.
Committee volunteers knocked on more than 3,700 doors in Whittier and were able to contact 1,750 homeowners. Renters were not surveyed.
Homeowners were asked a series of questions, including information about income, size of household, earthquake financial aid, earthquake related emotional problems and physical damage to their residences. About 80% of the homeowners said their walls need repair, 48% need doors replaced, 43% need plumbing work and 30% need foundation work.