JOPLIN, Mo. —
One way city officials are marking Joplin’s recovery from the May 22 tornado is by watching the number of building permits climb.
City Manager Mark Rohr said Wednesday that the number of homes being repaired or rebuilt has edged over the halfway mark.
“As of Dec. 23, the city had approved in excess of 50 percent of the building permits for residents who were impacted by the storm,” Rohr said. The EF-5 tornado affected 7,500 homes, he said. About 4,000 were destroyed and 3,500 were damaged, leaving an estimated 9,200 residents temporarily homeless. About 530 temporary households are located in mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or in rental properties.
In mid-November, city officials said Joplin was nearing the midpoint on that residential recovery, having issued 3,639 permits. Rohr said he sees the numbers weekly, but he did not have a specific number on Wednesday, nor had the city’s building department totaled the number of dollars represented by the permits.
But, Rohr nonetheless considers it noteworthy that the number has passed 3,750, marking an important milestone in the effort to repopulate the city’s scarred center section.
He described the rate of permits as a steady flow with no sign of decline — not even seasonal — right now.
“If there were a precipitous drop, we’d be circling the wagons to figure out what to do,” Rohr said.
Work to help the other half of the displaced residents replace their houses or apartments is continuing. The city manager said two new tools have been added. One of them is assistance in identifying resources for families that are trying to develop a plan for permanent housing through the Rebuild Joplin organization, which formerly operated only as a website to connect people to resources that are available.
Another is the availability of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development guaranteed housing loans. It was announced two weeks ago that population requirements that had made the loans unavailable in Joplin have been waived for the city and for the entirety of Jasper County.
The program guarantees loans that require no down payment and have interest rates currently at about 4 percent. The loans are available to people buying houses, or remodeling or repairing a house or a single condominium. The program is not available for subsidized housing or for buying houses that would be rented out.
There is an income limit for those who qualify. Single buyers or those with families of up to four people are eligible if the household income is less than $74,050. For larger families, the limit is $97,750. Most area banks have information available for consumers about the loan program.
This post-tornado rebuilding effort set a record for city building totals. When the city ended its fiscal year Oct. 31, a record $192 million in building permits had been issued, exceeding the previous record of $128 million set in 2007. Before the tornado, about $2.1 million in permits were being issued a month; after the storm, the average jumped to $35 million, the city’s building codes supervisor, Steve Cope, said in November.
Fees for those permits have created a revenue increase for the city as well as a workload that has pressed the city’s building inspection department. Two building inspectors have been working for the city, with their wages paid through a state program offered by the Workforce Investment Board, but that funding is running out The City Council on Tuesday approved a request to keep those two positions while the building permit fees are generating enough to pay the salaries.
Business recovery is coming along, but at a slower pace. Rohr said 197 permits for commercial repair or reconstruction have been issued; about 500 businesses were affected by the tornado.
To further the recovery effort, a panel of volunteers, the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, has been meeting to take public recommendations for redevelopment to city and school leaders.
Jane Cage, chairwoman of the panel, said Wednesday that the group is drafting a set of plans to propose as the city’s next step. She said the proposal will be presented and discussed at a joint meeting on Jan. 19 of the Joplin City Council, the Duquesne Board of Aldermen, the Joplin School Board, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors and the recovery team’s leadership.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in Billingsly Student Center at Missouri Southern State University. It will be open to the public. “We hope everyone will attend to show solidarity in the recovery effort,” Cage said.
THE U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION has approved 406 low-interest disaster loans to homeowners totaling $26,225,000, and 93 loans to businesses for $11,674,400 for tornado recovery.