Collin County

NBC 5 Investigates: Who's Turning Down “Free Money” For Storm Shelters?

Long waits for funds, but many ultimately reject storm shelter cash

NBC 5 Investigates has learned hundreds of North Texans have turned down free money that could help install storm shelter in their homes.

For more than two years, NBC 5 Investigates has been investigating the long waits and shortage of funding at the North Central Texas Safe Room Rebate Program. More than 10,000 families have signed up and are currently on the waitlist.

But, NBC 5 Investigates has learned almost half of waiting families turn down the money by the time they reach the top of the list.

Each day between two and ten families sign up for the program that pays half the cost for installing a storm shelter in their home up to a maximum of a $3000 rebate.

But right now there's more demand than money.

"Currently we have over 10,000 [on the waitlist] still. Just as soon as we get people who come off we have more people who come on," said Molly McFadden with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Families like the Dobrenics have been waiting for more than two years on the waitlist.

"There is a need, there's a great need. I mean you can't put a price on a human life," said David Dobrenic.

But while thousands wait, more than 40 percent down the cash when they finally reach the top of the waitlist. Many of those who reject the money say they simply can't afford to front the money for the shelter and then wait for a refund.

The way the programs works: if you install a $6,000 safe room, you have to pay the entire amount then file for a rebate which would eventually give you back half the cost of the shelter or in this case, $3,000 refunded.

"About a third it's a financial issue. They just can't afford to put the money up front," said McFadden.

In a survey of people who turned down the cash:

  • 29% said it was "financial" – they couldn't afford it.
  • 36% "would not specify" why they declined
  • 8% "already built" a safe room – skipping the wait for government funds and paying on their own.

The trouble is some people who turn down the money wait weeks to notify the program and that increases delays for others on the waitlist.

"By not getting back to us and just having a no call, no show it really makes it harder for us to contact the folks further down the list and they might get an abbreviated time line to get the project done," said McFadden.

NCTCOG recently told NBC5 David Dobrenic is No. 19 on the list in Collin County and should be receiving a rebate within the next few weeks along with about 650 other families.

The Council of Governments is also working with local emergency managers, reaching out to local banks to see if they can create an interest-free or low-interest loan program to help families cover the initial costs of installing the shelter and make it more affordable.

In January NCTCOG anticipates, almost 650 additional families on the waitlist will be offered rebate money - if they still want it.

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