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Realtor Lends Hand To Monson Tornado Victims 03:24
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A Monson house is marked to be torn down after it was twisted by this month's tornado. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
A Monson house is marked to be torn down after it was twisted by this month's tornado. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Nearly three weeks after a F3 tornado hit Monson, people here are still struggling to find temporary housing as their insurance companies sort out how long they will be homeless. One realtor in town is trying to help.

Soon after the tornado hit,  Karen King tried to find out from the federal and state relief agencies, FEMA and MEMA, when money would become available to place homeless families in new homes.

"And I found very quickly that they didn’t have access to things, and they’re overburdened," King says.

And there was no plan in place to respond to the emergency. So King decided to do something to help, starting with the 11 tornado victims bunking down at her place. Every day, they were going into town to try to get tarps and help from their insurance companies.

"They would come home at night and they were saying they weren’t getting the support," King says. "So we kind of took matters into our own hands, and I got involved with the church a little bit, and we talked to them and I found out what they were doing and they started by serving meals one night."

Realtor Karen King saw the tornado devastate the town from her window. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Realtor Karen King saw the tornado devastate the town from her window. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

The church is the First Congregational Church — First Church, as locals call it. It’s become the center of relief efforts in town.

King then decided to use her expertise and connections as a realtor. She contacted her clients to persuade them not to sell their houses, but to rent them instead. That's how some of her house guests found a place to stay. And she didn’t stop with her clients.

"I went through every house in Monson that’s for sale and I called up and we called the people, 'cause if they’re vacant houses let’s just rent them," King says. "And I said, 'I think you should rent because you have a house and there’s such a demand.' So I’ve taken five houses off the market that I had for sale and there’s another realtor that’s doing the same thing now."

She also started a Facebook page, listing Monson homes available for tornado victims.

"This is a house that I had for sale," King says, pointing to one of the survivors on the town's devastated Main Street. "The owners moved out because they lost their jobs and they had to relocate. " The house is now in foreclosure.

"It sat here vacant all winter, and so now we’ve got a homeless family in there," King says. The family that’s moved in is just paying the utilities.

A woman approaches King and they talk privately for a while. King comes back and points at the wreckage of a house.

"She lived right there," King says. "So she’s just told me that she still is homeless. Somebody brought over a camper, a friend, but she’s got to get out."

A volunteer with medical supplies interrupts her, asking for directions to a house that is no longer there.

King has already found a new home for the owner of that house.

It can take a while to find homes for the tornado victims. Insurance companies are awaiting recommendations from structural inspectors as to whether houses will have to come down and how long they’ll have to pay for temporary housing while the owners rebuild. So some owners are still living in their battered homes as they wait for word from their insurers.

This program aired on June 20, 2011.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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