Of the 550 homes lost, less than 200 homeowners have applied for rebuild permits nearly a year later.
Jerry Armstrong, 64, plans to rebuild at the exact address where he had lived as the home’s original owner for 29 years.
“We lost pretty much everything. We were able to get out with our dogs and the clothes on our backs, and it was pretty much it,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong originally hoped to get his housing permit back in October, but now he doesn’t expect to be approved until January.
“We knew it wouldn’t be fast, but it’s probably been a little bit slower than we’d hoped for,” said Armstrong.
“We would love to break ground in January and do some kind of Christmas miracle and get these guys [the Armstrongs] in there by Christmas, but it’s all going to depend on how quickly we can have the permits,” said Chris Hock, the owner of Earth Saving Solutions which is rebuilding the Armstrong home.
Hock said a downturn in the economy means lumber prices have finally come down a bit and the supply of workers has gone up, but the process to rebuild has not sped up.
“We were hoping to have permits in October and between delays internally, externally, and city redesigns … it’s just taken longer than expected,” said Hock.
Number of permits issued so far
According to the City of Louisville’s permit dashboard, 550 lots have been cleared. The website is updated daily, but as of Dec. 26, only 123 rebuild permits had been issued while another 60 permits were under review.
“We wish it [permit process] could happen overnight,” said Lisa Ritchie, the Recovery and Planning Manager for the City of Louisville. “That work takes time, and it is work that we feel is really important to make sure that plans are accurate, they’re buildable, they meet all the codes and all of that at the end of the day protects residents.”
On average, Ritchie said it takes the city about 30 days to approve permits.
“Everybody here at city hall, all of our elected officials, I know that we’ve all been working tremendously hard over the last year to get all of our residents home. You know I’m a resident myself, a lot of these people are my friends, so it’s been a big focus of mine as well as the rest of the staff,” said Ritchie.
Louisville has added staff to streamline the process and chosen not to enforce newer 2021 energy-efficient building codes and offered tax rebates to encourage rebuilding.
But Ritchie admits the city only expects about 60% of fire victims to rebuild in the first few years after the Marshall Fire.
“The largest challenge that is universal is under-insurance and dealing with the insurance companies,” said Ritchie.
Insurance played part in delays to rebuild
It’s been widely reported that most policyholders who lost their homes in the Marshall Fire were massively underinsured.
Armstrong told the Problem Solvers it will cost him about a million dollars to rebuild but he only received half-a-million dollars from his insurance company.
“It’s not easy. We’re going to be definitely tapping into our money we used to plan to use for retirement,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong said it makes him sad to think many of his neighbors can’t afford to rebuild, but he’s not worried about rebuilding in the same spot where the Marshall Fire proved even suburbia isn’t immune from a wildfire.
“We love Louisville, and we love this area. I think what this fire showed is that it really can happen just about anywhere. When you have 100 mph winds and a fire starts, there’s not a lot anybody can do about it,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong hopes to be in his new home in a year because, like so many people, his renter’s insurance is only good for two years.