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Could you imagine spending two and a half years, all your insurance money and every ounce of your strength repairing your home only to be told it was structurally unsound and had to be demolished? Unfortunately, Sean and Patti are currently living that reality. Their property was substantially damaged when four feet of storm water rushed into their home during Superstorm Sandy. On top of that, Sean’s place of employment, a small local business, was also destroyed in the storm. This left the family without their main source of income and forced them to live solely off their savings. Luckily, Patti and Sean qualified for the LMI RREM grant allotted them $150,000 but the cost of the rebuild vastly exceeded that amount. After borrowing funds from family and friends, Sean and Patti are $40,000 away from being able to build a safe home for their family.
Donate today so we can continue to help families like Sean and Patti’s!
Despite being over 70, our client “Sandra” is doing everything humanly possible to return home…including spackling, painting and completing other minor repairs herself. Her home, which flooded during Sandy and Jonas, is nearing the end of the elevation process, but her husband Bob’s health has deteriorated rapidly. Due to a disability, he won’t able to climb the new stairs to get into his elevated home; he needs a vertical platform lift to enter his own home. Without the $21,000 needed to add the lift, Sandra and Bob will not be able to return home together.
32% of households we assist have an individual with a disability. Donate today so we can continue to help families like Sandra’s.
Our client, “Amanda” has had not one but two fraudulent contractors in the last four years. Their deceit cheated her out of nearly $60,000 and the delay in her recovery has cost her $107,660.00 in rent. Currently, she’s working with a non-profit builder who will help her obtain a C/O so she can return home and save the rental expense. In order to complete her recovery, Amanda needs $5,800 to afford rent and furniture.
Please donate today so we can continue helping people like Amanda.
Frank and Carla were required to elevate their property, but, due to disabilities, both are finding it extremely difficult to access their home. Frank sustained injuries during his career as an Atlantic City Police Officer and Army Veteran while his wife, Carla, is beginning to lose her sight. They just had their final inspection and are no longer part of the RREM program. But they still require a wheelchair lift. This lift, which costs $22,000, is necessary for Frank and Carla to remain functionally independent.
23% of households we assist have at least one veteran. Please donate today so we can continue helping people like Frank and Carla.
Meghan is a single mother struggling to support her family while simultaneously rebuilding her home and complying with all RREM requirements. Her ex-husband took all the FEMA and flood insurance money for himself, without making any repairs to the home. Currently, Meghan is working with a non-profit builder and is intent on increasing her employment hours to cover the cost of the rebuild. She spends her days attending to her family’s emotional needs, applying for financial assistance and working as much as possible. In spite of all of her efforts, Meghan still needs $3,000 that will go toward rental assistance and gas gift cards. The cards will reduce travel expenses incurred from being displaced for the last several years.
30% of our clients have children! Donate today so we can continue to help people like Meghan and her children.
NEWARK – A father-and-son home improvement company in Point Pleasant bilked dozens of homeowners out of more than $1 million in federal superstorm Sandy relief aid, by taking money for work that was substandard, never performed or abandoned, a civil complaint filed by the state Consumer Affairs Division alleges.
Contractors Paul Zaidinski Sr. and Paul Zaidinski Jr. and their Point Pleasant-based company, Shore House Lifters, are alleged to have engaged in “unconscionable consumer practices’’ that included:
- Improperly disconnecting water and sewer lines.
- Improperly repairing a front staircase and spilling concrete on a back deck and driveway.
- Failing to complete home elevation projects, resulting in some homes failing inspections and preventing the consumers from moving back in.
- Abandoning home elevation projects while the homes were raised on temporary supports, which deprived consumers of access to their homes for lengthy time periods and required them to finish the work themselves or hire other contractors at additional expense.
- Failing to provide refunds required by law when consumers with certain Sandy relief funds cancel contracts for failure to start or complete work.
The Division of Consumer Affairs received 51 complaints against Shore House Lifters. Of those, 45 were from consumers who lost a total of $1.12 million in federal relief funds, according to the civil complaint filed in Superior Court in Ocean County. There were six complaints from consumers who did not receive federal Sandy relief aid.
The Consumer Affairs Division also filed a complaint in Atlantic County against George Rex and his Pleasantville-based companies, Atlantic Coast House Lifting and George Rex Construction LLC. That complaint also alleges shoddy or incomplete work, causing six recipients of federal relief to lose $277,100.
EXCLUSIVE: Sandy, home builders and broken promises
The civil complaints bring to seven the number of home improvement contractors charged by the Consumer Affairs Division with committing fraud on victims of Sandy, which ravaged the Shore area in October 2012.
“Long after the floodwaters have receded, we remain committed to holding accountable each and every contractor who financially exploited the victims of this catastrophic storm,” Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said in a news release announcing the complaints against the contracting companies.
“With every civil action we file, we are reinforcing the message that we will not allow unscrupulous contractors to prey on New Jersey residents, especially those struggling in the wake of a natural disaster,” he said.
The state is seeking restitution, fees and civil penalties from the contractors named in the complaints, and revocation of their contractor registrations. The state also is seeking to permanently bar the defendants from ever owning or operating home-improvement businesses in the state.
Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202; Khopkins@app.com
Property owners along New Jersey’s coast have had their homes raised to avoid flood waters like those that damaged homes during Hurricane Sandy.
But the home-elevation industry, which became a booming business after the 2012 storm, is wrought with problems, ranging from safety issues to funding delays that put projects on hold and left some homes literally up in the air.
Before October 2012, home elevation was a niche business, said Steve Hauck, owner of SJ Hauck House Movers in Egg Harbor Township.
The industry has since swelled, buoyed by federal money and stricter regulations on properties near the water, but house lifting is a dangerous, expensive and cumbersome process.
Just last month, one of Hauck’s employees, Jonathan Fitzick, 24, of Ocean City, was seriously injured after a house he was lifting in Wildwood partially collapsed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident, which left Fitzick with a broken leg and head cuts.
In 2013, OSHA fined a contractor $8,000 for three serious violations after three workers were injured when a house collapsed in Little Egg Harbor Township.
“It’s definitely safety-sensitive work,” said Tre McAllister, owner of another home elevation contractor, McAllister Building Group in Somers Point. “The insurance that we have to have is so expensive, so that says it all.”
Another obstacle for contractors and homeowners is dealing with the state agencies that process the federal money allocated for home elevation projects.
McAllister said about 70 percent of house lifting projects his company does are related to Sandy recovery, and thus eligible for funding through state programs, such as the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program.
Dealing with the program, which is managed by the state Department of Community Affairs, is “awful, absolutely awful,” said McAllister, because of delayed payments and red tape.
“It’s hard to function as a contractor when you can’t get paid,” said Hauck, who said his company has lifted more than 1,000 homes since Sandy.
“The way the program was designed — I don’t think it worked the way they envisioned it to work,” he added.
Susan Marticek agrees. She works with residents affected by the storm as executive director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group.
“The state grant was never set up to be the major part of people’s budget,” Marticek said.
Some homeowners get stuck with their properties hoisted on cribbing for weeks or months, waiting for money to come in and work to be completed.
“They get stuck in their recovery, and they don’t have enough money to finish their project,” Marticek said. “We’re now in year five, and, for a lot of people, they’re at a breaking point.”
“I’m fearful we will have a lot of projects that were started but not completed,” she added.
She also wonders about the safety of having houses on cribbing for long periods of time. Last year, a house on cribbing in Long Island tumbled over while the homeowner was waiting for funding to finish a home elevation project.
“Your house is very vulnerable when it’s up on that cribbing,” Maticek said. “With the bad storms, everybody gets a little nervous.”
The application period for RREM ended in 2013, but 2,622 homes are still in the process of being elevated, said Lisa Ryan, strategic communications director for the Sandy Recovery Division of Community Affairs.
Nearly 2,000 of those remaining projects are in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties.
“DCA is diligently working to help each of the remaining applicants complete construction and close out of the program,” Ryan wrote in an email to the Press of Atlantic City, adding the department regularly provides support to those enrolled in the program.
So far, about $336 million has been spent through the program on completing more than 4,000 home-elevation projects.
McAllister said the state is not always to blame for stalled construction. Sometimes, contractors misuse funds, or homeowners are paid by the state but don’t use the money to pay their contractors, he said.
Marticek suggested inexperience with major storms may be to blame for problems with house lifting.
“To me, this is New Jersey’s first time at the rodeo,” she said.
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UNION BEACH – Thousands of New Jersey families, their homes damaged or destroyed by Sandy, are now being ordered to repay part of their disaster assistance grants and a Kane In Your Corner investigation Wednesday found the rules determining the paybacks sometimes don’t seem fair. But homeowner advocates say those who get recoupment letters should not automatically repay and sometimes can keep the disputed funds.
Pat Weber’s home in Union Beach looks fine today, but it was a muddy mess immediately after Sandy, flooded by 4 feet of water. With the help of a Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant, Weber was able to repair and elevate her home. But in October, the state, acting on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sent her a letter demanding repayment of $32,000 in grant funds. The primary issue: Weber had qualified for “increased cost of compliance” flood insurance, which the government considers a “duplication of benefits.”
Weber considers the clawback unfair. “I paid for [the coverage] for 32 years on [my] flood insurance,” she says, adding that without the ICC funds, “I would not have been able to complete the job.”
It’s a similar story to the one told by Fred Schaffer, of Little Egg Harbor, now being ordered to repay $115,000 in RREM funds. In addition to the grant, he took out a loan from the Small Business Administration. Like Weber, Schaffer insists he needed both to get back in his home.
If that’s true, and both Weber and Schaffer can prove it, they may be able to successfully dispute the clawback effort, federal officials say.
“We’re required to do a duplication-of-benefits check,” FEMA spokesman Bill MacDonald explains. “To make sure there are not two funding sources paying for the same thing.” However, MacDonald says, if a family “can provide receipts that there was no duplication of benefits, then that money would not be recouped.”
Homeowner advocates say many of the issues could have been prevented if federal officials had simply communicated from the beginning.
Many Sandy homeowners “did everything right in life,” says Sue Marticek of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group. “They lived, they paid their taxes, their insurance, their flood insurance for decades, and here they are, not able to get through because of the real disaster, and the real disaster is the bureaucracy that happened after.”
Weber, for example, received a RREM grant of only $120,000, less than the maximum. She might have been able to avert the recoupment effort if, instead of accepting $30,000 in supplemental flood insurance, she had simply applied for more grant money.
FEMA’s McDonald admits communication could have been better. “That is a lesson learned,” he says. “We are going to have to improve our outreach”.
But homeowners still take issue with a system in which the government hands out assistance and then asks for it back. “I did what they told me to do,” Weber says. “I should be finished.”
January 11, 2017 8:05 PM
LITTLE EGG HARBOR – Some New Jersey homeowners are being ordered to repay tens of thousands of dollars in Sandy grant money after they accepted government-backed loans that the Federal Emergency Management Agency encouraged them to apply for, and a FEMA spokesman promises Kane In Your Corner the agency will work harder to ensure that homeowners understand the often-confusing rules.
Fred and Marjorie Schaffer’s home in Little Egg Harbor was damaged so badly during Sandy that it could not be saved. Thanks in part to a $150,000 Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant, they were able to move into a new modular home. When the work was finished, the state of New Jersey even listed the family as a “success story” on its Sandy Recovery website.
But Fred Schaffer doesn’t feel like his story is much of a success. The state recently sent him a letter, on behalf of FEMA, demanding that he repay $115,000 of his RREM grant. Schaffer also accepted a loan from the Small Business Administration, which the federal government considers a “duplication of benefits.” The rules are intended to make sure homeowners only get the help they need and don’t profit from disaster relief, but Schaffer doesn’t understand why they apply to him.
“How can it be a duplication of benefits?” he wonders. “I didn’t get (the SBA loan) for free. I’m paying it back every month for the next 30 years.”
Sue Marticek with the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group says she’s heard the same complaint from many homeowners. “Many don’t understand to this day how getting a loan from the SBA is considered a duplication of benefits,” she says.
Some homeowners are also upset because they believed they were just doing what FEMA wanted. In the weeks after the storm, FEMA personnel around the state advised Sandy victims to fill out SBA loan applications. FEMA spokesman Bill MacDonald says the advice was good, since the applications also served as the first step in the grant process. He says, unfortunately, some homeowners were either not told or did not understand that if they actually accepted a loan, the proceeds would count against any future grant money.
“I understand that is confusing to people,” MacDonald says, adding that FEMA understands “we are going to have to improve our outreach.”
For Fred Schaffer, now having to repay $115,000 in grant money, that’s not much comfort.
On Thursday, Kane In Your Corner takes a closer look at “duplication of benefit” rules and what a homeowner can do when a recoupment letter arrives.