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Vermillion Flood Relocation Incentives Favor Wealthy Homebuyers

The Vermillion Area Chamber and Economic Development Corporation are trying to turn disaster into local gain by offering money to Missouri River flood victims who will move to Clay County and buy a house. The web announcement indicates the relocation incentives are for South Dakotans, although the guidelines on the application don't make that clear.

How much money can flooded folks get for making the move?

  • $3,000 one-time payment for homes purchased between $100,000 and $149,000
  • $4,000 one-time payment for homes purchased $150,000 and above
  • $5,000 one-time payment for new construction

You only get the money for a single-family house, not a condo or duplex. Mobile homes don't qualify. Nor do any of the 17 houses currently available in Vermillion for under $100K. Nor do folks who think renting is the new American dream and a better financial option for their families.

And that gets my friend Rebecca Terk's class-warfare goat:

What this says to me is that the VCDC wants people who could afford nice homes on the river to bring their wealth to Vermillion (a truly shocking revelation). If you had a modest place that flooded out or you lost everything, well, don't expect a helping hand. The VCDC isn't offering relocation incentives to young people starting out or families trying to regain their footing in tough circumstances [Rebecca Terk, "VCDC Offers Flood Relocation Funds... to the Wealthy," Flying Tomato Farms, 2011.07.05].

Terk, a former Vermillion resident, suggests that the relocation incentives might do more good for immigrants and the community alike by offering more money for less expensive houses. Instead of paying people more for taking on greater debt for more expensive houses, the VCDC could offer more money to induce people to move into cheaper houses and fix them up.

I'll admit, I can't wholly criticize Vermillion's relocation incentives. I've thought Madison could mount a similar campaign to get people to move to Lake County ("Lakes! Technology! Over 1600 feet above sea level!") Encouraging folks to move here to get away from flooding is no more objectionable that pointing out that migrants can get away from snowstorms, traffic jams, or smog.

But the economic discrimination in Vermillion's relocation incentives is far too clear. Move here if you've got money, and the more money you have, the more money we'll give you! That plan may improve the bottom line, but it also reflects a narrow view of economic development in which houses are merely financial assets, not places families of all income levels call home.