Friends, community, agencies help disabled Fort Plain man get his home back

Rob Juteau

Emery Giovannone loved his Witter Street home in Fort Plain, N.Y. It was his sanctuary until the day he was carried away from rising flood waters in the bucket of a front end loader.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said. “I waited years to get a home that was custom built to meet my needs, and it had to be torn down.”

Left homeless by the June 2006 floods, Giovannone, who has been a quadriplegic since an automobile accident three decades ago, moved Thursday into a brand new Fort Plain home, thanks to the hard work and generosity of friends, community members and government agencies.

“I feel fantastic. It’s been a long 14 months, and now it’s another chapter in my life. We’re going to start from here,” Giovannone said.

The Army veteran, affectionately known as “Mr. G.,” was joined by many of the men and women who helped him in his quest to return home.

Lacking the means to raze his old home, much less the means to build a new one, a contingent of state and federal offices, as well as business leaders and housing advocates, came together in an unusual example of coordination and cooperation.

Under the leadership of the Valley Rural Preservation Company, and through the generosity of statewide affordable housing associations, local contractors and community residents, a new handicapped-accessible home with flood-resistant features was erected where Giovannone’s flood-ravaged home once stood.

“It was extraordinary on many levels and demonstrated the professional and personal commitment of people who felt compelled to help a very deserving individual,” New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner Deborah VanAmerongen said. “Local, state and federal government agencies joined forces with local businesses, housing advocates and not-for-profit organizations in order to help Mr. Giovannone rebuild his home and his life.”

Gino Santabarbara, Valley Rural Preservation Company executive director, thanked the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the Affordable Housing Corporation and the New York State Affordable Housing Association for the funding they provided.

“I have been extremely fortunate to work with so many dedicated people from government and the private sector to try and address Emery’s needs,” he said.

Giovannone, 58, had been living at the Palatine Nursing Home for the past 14 months. Once able to navigate the village’s sidewalks and streets, and able to travel with the use of his handicapped-accessible van, Giovannone spent most of the past year reading and surfing the Internet.

Frustrated and isolated because of the destruction of his home and van by flooding, Giovannone said he was ready to be back in his own place.

“Having a home to go to is the most important thing,” he said. “This is like winning the Lotto. I just can’t thank everyone enough.

“I feel better than I have felt in 30 years,” Giovannone said. “It’s been a wild ride, with the flood, losing a kidney and having pneumonia three times this past year. I was in intensive care for months. They called my father and said you better say goodbye, he’s not going to live.”

The Division of Housing and Community Renewal offered financial assistance to pay for the home, site work and accessibility modifications through the New York State HOME program, with $51,000 to secure funding for the purchase of a new manufactured home and site work.

Access to Home provided $24,000 for accessibility modifications, including a front entrance wheel chair ramp, new flooring to allow for wheelchair maneuverability and a fully accessible bathroom with a wheel-in shower.

The New York State Affordable Housing Association provided $20,700 in private contributions to help offset costs, and the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation provided $35,000 in flood relief to help pay for engineering and construction costs.

The New York Housing Association worked to identify new homes that would suit Giovannone’s needs, and through their efforts, a local vendor, Syracuse-based American Homes, supplied a new manufactured home at cost.

The village arranged for the demolition of the damaged home and FEMA reimbursed the cost to the village. The Valley Rural Preservation Company coordinated the project.

Rob Juteau is a reporter for the Little Falls, N.Y., Evening Times.