Cumberland homeowners seeking flood relief feeling ignored by province

A pair of homeowners whose homes were flooded in the spring are speaking out against the province, saying the government has been ignoring their calls for help with their applications for relief funds.

Sections along the Ottawa River qualify for provincial assistance after historic floods

Genevieve Landry's home on Leo Lane in Cumberland after the spring flood. Landry says the government has not been helpful as she tries to apply for provincial relief. (CBC)

More than two months after Ontario activated its disaster relief program in areas affected by the Ottawa River floods, some homeowners feel the province is ignoring them as they struggle to get through the demanding application process.

The Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program was activated on May 12 for several areas along the Ottawa River, and helps cover emergency expenses and other costs related to flood damage not otherwise covered by insurance.

Affected homeowners are required to provide supporting documentation with their claim, which could include photographs of damaged property, written logs of time spent cleaning up, and receipts for new purchases and disaster-related costs.

It's a time-consuming process, and one that has left a pair of Cumberland homeowners frustrated with the province.

"I feel that the province really let us down," said Michel Potvin, who owns a home on Leo Lane. 

Potvin says that after a productive community meeting with local and provincial officials in early May, the Ontario government has all but ignored his case. 

"Since then, we have not been in contact with them, they have not contacted us. We have tried several times," he said.

In this photo dated May 17, 2017, Michel Potvin shows how high the Ottawa River rose in his Cumberland home. He feels ignored by the province as he applies for flood relief. (File Photo/Andrew Foote/CBC)

Potvin has enlisted his sister-in-law to help him with the claim, but it's proving difficult with a lack of guidance from the province. 

"She's been having all kinds of nightmares, trying to get clarification as to where we're going with this."

Potvin figures he has spent almost $100,000 out of his own pocket to cover the expenses while he gets his application done. But he said he's running out of money as the expenses continue to pile up.

"Right now, I won't be able to do much more until I get some kind of assistance from the province," he said.

Genevieve Landry, who lives nearby, has been dealing with the same frustrations with her relief application.

She said she's called the province's assistance hotline to get clarification on her application, but was not provided with any answers. 

'It's overwhelming'

"I called the phone number, the help line that was posted in the document. And I was told that because my file, or account hadn't been opened, that they couldn't answer any of my questions," Landry said. 

Landry said she has been working on the application since the end of May. She, too, has called on friends to help with her application.

"It's overwhelming. Thank God I had help from my friends that are — they work in this domain. One's an auditor for [the Canada Revenue Agency] and the other one is an auditor for National Defence. So thank God they're used to doing these types of documents, and audits, and working with invoices."

Landry is thankful to have capable friends who volunteered hours of work to help with her claim, but worries about others in the area who might not be so lucky.

"It's been a long process. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of preparation," she said. "I was overwhelmed. So I can only imagine the people that have a learning disability, or [difficulty] understanding paperwork. They won't know where to start."

Ministry responds

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, which is responsible for the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program, wrote that adjusters have been hired to answer basic questions about the application process.

If residents "are not able to get through to the adjusters, or feel that they are not getting the help they need," they should contact the ministry directly, the spokesperson said.