Monday, January 20, 2014

Storm Chronicles, Bad News For Many Sandy Victims

Good Luck Point, Bayville, New Jersey after Sandy

by Patricia A. Miller
January 19, 2014
Gov. Chris Christie recently trumpeted the news that 1,000 residents on the waiting list for Sandy recovery funds were coming off the list and that help was on the way.

Christie made the announcement in the chilly truck bays of the Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Company firehouse last week. The event - his first public event since "Bridgegate" broke save for his State of the State speech - was carefully orchestrated.

State Department of Community Affairs Director Richard E. Constable III was by his side, along with a Sandy victim identified only as "Amy." Amy tearfully thanked the governor and the state for helping her get back home.

After her tremulous remarks, Christie hugged the woman, then caressed her arm as Constable spoke.

Then the governor went to the podium and assured the audience he spent "50 percent" of his time on Sandy and would not rest until we were all back in our homes. He took no questions from the press or audience and left swiftly. The shouts of reporters he left in his wake echoed in the truck bay.

There are too many of us out there who are not as fortunate as Amy. Too many of us who haven't received much help. New Jersey residents devastated by Sandy came out in droves to Sandy recovery centers last year in the affected counties.

They came to apply for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation - not so fondly referred to by some as the "RREM" program, and the Homeowners Resettlement Program. 

The good news is that anyone who met the deadline to apply for the resettlement grant program will eventually get their $10,000 check, as long as they live in the affected counties for the next three years.

The bad news is that 7,000 eligible residents who applied for the RREM grant will still have to wait. And wait. And wait. 

"However, approximately 7,000 applications, including yours, remain on the waitlist until further funding becomes available," states the letter I received Saturday.

The letter goes on to say that once the state receives an additional $1.4 billion for Sandy recovery efforts, the state will dedicate a substantial portion of that money to the RREM program.

"Please be advised that this second round of funding will not come to New Jersey until late spring or early summer," the letter states.

Oh, goody. Just in time for the 2014 hurricane season, which begins on June 1.

So all of us on that list will spend the first half of 2014 wringing our hands and praying the money comes in time, just like last year.

But the news gets worse. Much worse.

Just because you are eligible for RREM funds and are on the waiting list doesn't mean you will get a grant. Here's the kicker.

"Even as we pull many additional applicants off of the waitlist, resources remain limited," the letter states. "Unfortunately, that means there is no assurance that there will be sufficient funding for every eligible applicant on the waitlist."

I've got questions. So do many other people affected by Sandy. How was it decided who received the first round of funding? 

I was told when I applied in June 2013 that the selections were "randomized" and the funds would first go to low and moderate income people. Trust me, I meet the income requirements.

I did receive the resettlement grant and for that I am grateful.

But our house was decimated by Sandy. It was gutted, down to the crawl space. All the old wiring had to be yanked out and replaced. Ditto the hot water heater and boiler, which were already elevated. Sheetrock was torn out up to four feet. The house had to be treated for mold, a process which took almost a month. The kitchen and cabinets were ripped out and had to be replaced. We were out of our house for seven months.

It's a laundry list that many Sandy victims are all too familiar with. We were lucky. The flood insurance payments came quickly. But the money went quickly for repairs. Now we are faced with having to elevate the house without the money to do it.

Like many, we don't have a fancy beachfront home. We don't live on the bay. We don't live on the barrier island. We live in a small ranch in Bayville across the street from the Toms River.

So now what? If there is no money to elevate the house, the flood insurance premiums will skyrocket. I will forced to sell my home of 23 years. It's not something I want to do, but something that may have to be done.

There are so many people out there in similar situations. Some still do not have the money to even demolish their destroyed homes, so the houses sit, rotting hulks subject to future storms.

Even if damaged homes have been knocked down, many homeowners don't have the money to build new ones.

I have written a number of columns about Superstorm Sandy. Many times I've used the Good Luck Point section of Bayville as an example of what has happened to the Jersey Shore.

Good Luck Point was a community of primarily modest ranch homes, many in families for decades. I say was, because a number of the homes are now gone forever. Drive down Dorrance Drive and you'll see a number of empty lots.

Go a little further down Good Luck Drive and you will see the gentrification has begun. Several large new two-story homes are now up on pilings. This is the future of the New Jersey Shore.  "For Sale" signs dot the lots where much-loved ranches once stood.

And unless you are fortunate to have already received a RREM grant or are independently wealthy, chances are you won't be able to rebuild. The transformation of the Jersey Shore has already begun. 

And that's a shame.

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