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Condo Owners Appeal to FEMA

Quake: Rally-goers demand rent subsidies be extended a fourth time because repairs are not complete. Agency offers other assistance.


About 100 condominium owners whose homes were damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake rallied Saturday to demand that a federal disaster assistance program be extended one more time.

Standing in front of a Tarzana condominium complex that is undergoing repairs, homeowners lamented mounting bills that will go unpaid once the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops providing rental assistance next month.

Many of the homeowners have been out of their condos since the earthquake and are using FEMA assistance to help pay rent until repairs are completed. Others are still waiting for construction to begin.

"We want FEMA to extend relocation assistance until the projects are done," said Sandy Tilsen of Sherman Oaks, who helped organize the rally. "They should finish the job they started."

Tilsen said repairs at many units have been delayed because negotiations with condominium boards, which have to approve major expenditures, contractors and insurance companies, are incomplete.

"They don't realize the problems condominium owners have," she said.

The rent assistance program has already been extended three times. By May, FEMA will have provided aid for 28 months--well beyond the initial 18-month limit, according to FEMA spokeswoman Vallee Bunting.

"Disaster assistance programs are designed to operate for a limited amount of time," said Bunting. "We have to maintain an amount of fiduciary responsibility since this is federal tax dollars we are using."

According to Bunting, the federal program has assisted more than 120,000 people at a cost of more than $375 million. As of last week, Bunting said, 960 individuals were still requesting assistance.

"We are aware of the fact that the end of the program could cause financial hardship for some of the owners," said Bunting.

So, she added, FEMA will continue to provide other types of help. "We're trying to assist people in negotiating with their lending institutions, to try to help meet their mortgage obligations."

But homeowners such as Michael Consoli said they need more time. Consoli owns a condo at Warner Club Villas in Woodland Hills, where workers are still trying to determine the extent of the damage and who will pay for repairs, he said.

"It's a matter of negotiations between the contractor and the insurance company," said Consoli. "We don't know when the heck we're getting out or getting back in and we have no money to cover our expenses."

Daniel Shklyar of Sherman Oaks said he is grateful to FEMA for helping him over the last year. But he doesn't expect repairs on his home to be completed for another three months.

"I want FEMA to help us once again."

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