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17 Dec 2016

Superstorm Sandy support group from Long Island brings holiday cheer to children of Louisiana flood victims

Santa’s helpers traveled a long distance to make a special stop in Baton Rouge this weekend, though not from quite so far away as the North Pole.

A New York-based nonprofit group created to help Superstorm Sandy flood victims in Long Island decided to play the Santa helper role for flood victims in Louisiana’s capital city this Christmas season.

The group, Adopt a House, assisted by a social media networking group, Sandy Support Massapequa Style, co-hosted a Christmas party on Saturday for 50 Baton Rouge children, ranging from 2 to 12 years old, whose families had been affected by the flooding in August.

The party, which took place at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum, featured holiday-themed crafts, face painting and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus.

Adopt a House is dedicated to supporting the Long Island community in rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which tore through the east coast in late October of 2012. Sandy Support Massapequa Style is a Facebook group of close to 900 members that has worked with Adopt a House in co-hosting events like the one held Saturday in Baton Rouge.

“We’re an organization that’s been dealing with Sandy up here in New York, so we totally understand what it’s like, especially that first Christmas,” Adopt a House executive director Michele Insinga said. “So we just wanted to give back to the community as others had given to us four years ago.”

Insinga said the party grew out of the organization’s involvement with a Louisiana-based Facebook group called “Adopt a Louisiana Family For Christmas!” The group invites sponsors to connect with and donate to flood victims.

Prior to hosting the party, Adopt a House connected with several families through the Facebook group and was able to send presents to 37 children.

Beth Henry, an Adopt a House volunteer and creator of Sandy Support Massapequa Style, played a big role in organizing the party. She said Adopt a House knew early on that it wanted to provide support for the affected families during the holiday season, but had just a week-and-a-half notice from a donor that its members would have the opportunity to host a party.

Making everything come together on such short notice, she said, was something of a “Christmas miracle.”

“This weekend four years ago, I was at a party like this for my girls when we lost our house after Hurricane Sandy,” Henry said. “It was really, really important for me to make this a great event because it’s all about paying it forward when we can.”

Baton Rouge resident Lisa LeDoux and her daughter Finley are just two of the many Louisianians who are still unable to move back into their homes. Their family has been displaced since Aug. 12, the day the flooding started, and LeDoux saw the Christmas party as a way to reward her daughter for “how big of a trooper she had been.”

“She’s been awesome throughout this whole process,” LeDoux said. “I saw that and I normally wouldn’t reach out to something like this, but thought she could use a great day, and it’s been perfect.”

The pair said their favorite part of the day was seeing Santa pulling up to the party in a red Ferrari decorated with holiday wreaths and toting his iconic bag of gifts.

A pair of elves decked out in red and white striped tights and colorful hats sang classic Christmas songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming to To Town” and “Jingle Bells” as they ushered the children to gather around Santa’s chair, where their gifts had been laid out.

One by one Santa called the kids up to receive a Christmas present, which had been individually purchased for them by the Adopt a House volunteers based on their Christmas lists. The gifts included sets of blocks and kits filled with markers and other art supplies.

Insinga said one of the main goals in throwing the party was to take the children out of their difficult situations for a day, giving them a chance to experience the holiday season even though their families might be dealing with serious financial burdens.

“Maybe their parents don’t have time to go bring them to go see Santa,” she said. “They may not have the money to give them this year because of the obvious reasons. But we just wanted them to have something so that they weren’t forgotten in the holiday season because this is what people did for us in that first year.”

  • BY ROSE VELAZQUEZ | Special to The Advocate

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_ede036e2-c54c-11e6-b2c0-573caab143d3.html

16 Dec 2016

Contractor Charged For Scamming Individuals With Homes Damaged In Superstorm Sandy

OCEAN COUNTY, N.J. (CBS) — A New Jersey man is facing charges for scamming individuals who had their homes damaged during Superstorm Sandy. Charges against Jamie Lawson, 41, were announced on Friday.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato announced that a grand jury indicted Lawson, the owner of Lawson Renovations, L.L.C., DBA J&N Construction.

Authorities say Lawson took payment from 14 homeowners in Toms River and Brick Township and either did none of the work promised, or less than what was agreed to. They add that the money went toward vehicles and Lawson’s personal expenses.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office added that Lawson became a licensed home improvement contractor when he moved to New Jersey shortly after Superstorm Sandy hit. They say that Lawson obtained the license after misrepresenting himself on his application by failing to disclose criminal convictions in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Lawson has been charged with money laundering, theft by failure to make required disposition, tampering with public records and related charges.

Anyone who believes that they were defrauded by Lawson’s company are asked to contact the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732 929 2027

 

Contractor Charged For Scamming Individuals With Homes Damaged In Superstorm Sandy

02 Dec 2016

Four years after Superstorm Sandy, state and federal agencies to study back-bay flooding

New Jersey and federal agencies have announced a joint study to examine ways to combat flooding on the state’s back bays, which were where some of the worst flooding happened four years when Superstorm Sandy barreled into the shore.

The pain continues for many communities that were pummeled by the historic storm. Shore towns have watched as government agencies rushed to build sand dunes along beaches but failed to construct similar flood protection measures along the bay shores, in the areas between the mainland and barrier islands.

To many communities, the announced study by the state Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is welcome — if years too late.

“This isn’t the first disaster in America,” said George Kasimos, whose Toms River home flooded during Sandy, at a public meeting Thursday. “As soon as that disaster came, within that first year, there should’ve been a plan.”

How it will work

The New Jersey Back Bays Study actually started in April after spinning off of a larger study of the entire North Atlantic Coast, which the Corps of Engineers began a year and a half after Sandy, said  J. Bailey Smith, the project manager who will oversee the back bay study.

DEP and Corps of Engineers will first analyze the physical features of the coast and compile flood probability data before identifying possible flood protection measures.

Those measures fall into four broad categories: changes to regional policies and the creation of new programs, structural measures such as bulkheads and levees, non-structural measures like buyouts and flood warning systems, and nature-based methods like reefs.

The study is expected to last three years and likely would not result in the construction of any new projects before its completion, officials said.

“This is a more complex issue and problem to address than, say, beach erosion. And it took a very long time to get where we are with beach erosion,” said Bill Dixon, the DEP’s director of coastal engineering.

“I see different methods being used in different areas” for the back bay study, he said.

Nonetheless, the Corps of Engineers’ Bailey said that does not mean that the state’s bay shores will remain completely vulnerable to flooding in the short term.

“We have a lot of similar, smaller projects that are ongoing and may be constructed in the next three to five years,” said Bailey.

The study will encompass 3,500 miles of bay shoreline in Burlington, Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May, and Monmouth Counties.

‘Caught with our pants down’

For Lacey Township resident Pat Doyle, back bay flooding is old hat. She welcomed the announcement but said the problem of bay flooding was nothing novel to residents who regularly cope with encroaching waters.

“We were caught with our pants down badly during Sandy,” said Doyle, “and we shouldn’t have been.”

Others in the audience during a public meeting Thursday night at Stockton University argued that the long delay in starting the three-year study will now be followed by another delay in starting construction on the flood protection projects recommended by the study.

“So, the true answer for most of the people in my neighborhood is this is being built for your children, because they won’t live long enough to see it?” asked Paul Jeffrey, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association. “That’s sad.”

Dixon, with DEP, said it would have been difficult for the state to embark on such an undertaking on its own. DEP and Corps of Engineers are splitting the costs of the back bay study.

He also claimed that authorities have not been ignoring the needs of back bay communities by largely focusing on flood protection projects on the oceanfront beaches. The reason for that, according to Dixon, was because the state identified oceanfront flooding as a major problem long before it realized back bay flooding also required attention.

“Studies like this [for ocean flooding] were implemented back in the 90s. So the reason why these projects are being implemented now on the oceanfront is we’ve gotten through all this process.”
Dixon also said the state was actively trying to minimize the effect of bay shore flooding by, for example, buying out residents living on the Delaware and Raritan Bays through the Green Acres program.

Kasimos, the Toms River homeowner who also founded the group Stop FEMA Now after Sandy, said the announcement was another in a long line of government failures on this issue.

“If there were lobbyists in here and there were big funders in here, this would’ve gotten done already,” said Kasimos.

“Look, government is inefficient by nature, I get that. But the response since Sandy — state and federal —  is piss-poor.”

 

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/99368-four-years-after-superstorm-sandy-state-and-federal-agencies-to-study-back-bay-flooding

23 Nov 2016

Jersey Shore fish pond helped by Superstorm Sandy

For years, the conflicting goals of protecting the environment and some of the New Jersey shore’s priciest real estate from storms have bedeviled a body of water known as Wreck Pond.

Storms sometimes open a channel between the 48-acre tidal pond and the ocean, but governments keep sealing it shut to protect homes from flooding. The result has been poor water quality and much narrower access to the ocean that hurts fish that travel from ocean to pond to breed.

But a program that sprang from resiliency planning after Superstorm Sandy is addressing both problems at once. The main phase of the work has been completed, consisting of a concrete culvert between the pond and the ocean to make it easier for fish, including herring, to reach the sea.

“This is a demonstration of how we can restore the coastal ecology of the Jersey shore while at the same time keeping communities safe from future storms,” said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, the coastal advocacy group that oversaw construction. “We’re restoring a piece of the ecology that has been lost.”

The inlet at Wreck Pond has come and gone over the decades. Its very name came from shipwrecks that used to occur when the inlet was open in the 1800s; the Sea Girt lighthouse was built to illuminate it. In the 1600s, Lenape Indians came to the inlet for bathing rituals and clam feasts. Records from the 1920s show the inlet still open, but fairly shallow and often clogged with sand.

In May 1938, Wreck Pond was dammed off from the ocean in the name of protecting the oceanfront communities on either side of it from flood damage from surging ocean waters. Two weeks later, the ocean broke through, and the first of many years of repair and maintenance work ensued.

Most recently, Sandy re-opened it in 2012, but drifting sand naturally reclosed it within two weeks, and government crews reinforced it as part of a beach replenishment project.

But in reducing the danger of one type of flooding — ocean waves surging into the pond — dams inadvertently raised the risk of a different type of flooding, from heavy rainfall that swells the pond beyond its banks. The tunnel will give that water someplace to go.

In addition to letting fish in and out more easily, the culvert can be opened or closed as needed during storms to control flooding.

It’s akin to an express lane for fish, but people will benefit, too. The project enables officials to better control water levels in the pond during storms, and dramatically improves water quality by flushing it regularly with infusions of ocean water, preventing bacteria and algae blooms from choking it.

And it should reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the frequent ocean beach closings that result when even a small amount of rain falls, sending harmful bacteria into the ocean.

The work is part of $7.4 million worth of work in and around the pond, financed by federal, state, county and local governments.

The Littoral Society has been monitoring fish traffic and is pleased to see large volumes of river herring and other species using it to get to and from the pond.

“There was a time when the pond had a bountiful natural fish population,” said Spring Lake Mayor Jennifer Naughton. “With the increased flow of salt water into the pond, we expect to see a significant increase in water quality.”

Wayne Parry Of The Associated Press

http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/mc-jersey-shore-fish-channel-20161123-story.html

07 Nov 2016

Sandy advocacy group receives $1.5 million grant

TOMS RIVER  — A nearly $1.5 million grant from the Robin Hood Foundation will allow a Sandy advocacy group to continue helping storm victims through 2017.

“I am bursting at the seams so I am not going to delay anymore,” Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group said at the start of the organization’s monthly meeting. “We have actually had three funders come forward.”

The long-term recovery group, an umbrella organization of about 80 nonprofits, will receive $1.485 million from the Robin Hood Foundation, $25,000 from the Ocean First Foundation, and $50,000 from the Community Foundation of New Jersey.

Marticek said last month that she feared the long-term recovery group would have to close its doors in December if more funding was not received, even though she believes the county is only “about halfway through the recovery.”

Homeowners frequently find that they are short several thousand dollars at the end of the rebuilding process.

The new influx of funds will help the group provide about  $1 million to help homeowners get back home by bridging the funding gaps that frequently exist between the amount of grant and insurance monies a Sandy victim receives, and the actual amount of money they need to move back into their house.

A non-profit builders group that has also been assisting homeowners here will receive $1.45 million from the Robin Hood Foundation, Marticek said.

“Because of the efforts of the nonprofits, we have over $2 million extra to give out in 2017,” Marticek said.

The Ocean County group has also held a series of free workshops to help answer homeowners’ questions about the state’s signature recovery program for homeowners, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program.

As the only long-term recovery group still operating in New Jersey, the Ocean County group also hosted workshops throughout the state to assist homeowners interested in reopening their flood insurance claims.

Story continues below the photo.

Homeowners frequently find that they are short several thousand dollars at the end of the rebuilding process, Marticek has said. Four years after the storm, hundreds of homeowners here continue to struggle: Marticek estimates that Ocean County is “about halfway through the recovery.”

The long-term recovery group has distributed more than $6 million to help Sandy victims since it was formed in the aftermath of the 2012 storm, and has assisted more than 2,300 Ocean County families.

Ocean County had the most Sandy damage in the state: more than 40,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

Jean Mikle: (732) 643-4050, jmikle@gannettnj.com

, @jeanmikle6:32 a.m. EST November 7, 2016

06 Nov 2016

MOTEL OWNER SENTENCED FOR STEALING SUPERSTORM SANDY FUNDS

A New Jersey motel owner who stole more than $81,000 in federal disaster relief funds by falsely claiming he had sheltered Superstorm Sandy victims is now headed to prison.

Sandipkumar Patel received a three-year sentence Friday. The 44-year-old Edison man had pleaded guilty in September to theft by deception and has paid full restitution.

State authorities say Patel fraudulently took $81,567 from a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that paid hotels and motels for rooms temporarily occupied by victims.

Patel and his wife own the American Motel in Toms River.

Authorities say Patel falsely billed FEMA for 11 supposed victims, including eight of whom never stayed at the motel. The three others stayed for shorter periods than were billed or shared a room that Patel had already billed to FEMA.

http://6abc.com/news/motel-owner-sentenced-for-stealing-superstorm-sandy-funds/1592720/

29 Oct 2016

Ocean County group helps Sandy victims soldier on | Di Ionno

Sue Marticek loves to tell this story:

A family that turned to her agency for assistance was put out of their home by Hurricane Sandy the year their daughter graduated high school.

The daughter graduated college this year, and they’re still not home.

“That put it all in perspective,” Marticek said. “Four years! Think about how much life goes by in four years.

“We’re trying to help people and solve their problems day in and day out, so the time just goes by and your head is in your work,” she said. “But when you step back and think, ‘Four years!’ It’s amazing some of these people (Sandy victims) haven’t completely unraveled.”

For those who have, though, Marticek and the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group (OCLTRG) have found ways to get them counseling, just as they have for Hurricane Sandy victims who can’t find housing, can’t afford rent or housing, need food or clothes, are having trouble navigating the federal and state recovery programs (and who hasn’t?), or were ripped off by their flood insurance carrier.

MORERecent Mark Di Ionno columns

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of the storm and the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group is the last nonprofit agency standing to meet what the executive director calls “unmet needs.”

In nonprofit parlance that means the gaps between insurance payouts and government grants and loans. Anyone following the Sandy recovery — often called “the disaster after the disaster” by people bound in the eternal red tape – knows there are thousands of people out there still waiting to get home or to hoping to become financially solvent.

For Marticek it’s been an education — and one she is anxious to share with anyone who will listen.

She testified at the Louisiana Statehouse two weeks ago following the devastating floods in the Baton Rouge area. She’s been called by disaster officials from West Virginia and Houston after floods, and California after wildfires.

Lesson No. 1 is that victims need advocates who will take them through the daunting process of filing insurance claims, applying for government programs and finding charity help.

Four years! Think about how much life goes by in four years.” — Sue Marticek, head of Ocean County recovery group

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “People think the only people who get lost in this are older people who aren’t internet savvy. Let me tell you, I’ve had doctors and lawyers who throw their hands up and say, ‘I can’t figure this out.'”

For Frank and Mary Ellen Azack, the OCLTRG helped them out of a bureaucratic quagmire that left their wrecked house in the Silverton section of Toms River stuck in the mud.

“We got shortchanged by our insurance company,” Frank Azack said. “Then we were denied a RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation Program) grant. The house was just sitting there. I was living in a small attic apartment, but my wife couldn’t stay there because she has multiple sclerosis and couldn’t climb the stairs.”

Azack met OCLTRG case workers at a Sandy victim information meeting in Toms River in 2014, and things started to move.  Marticek’s group partnered with the United Methodist Church’s volunteer building group called “A Future of Hope” and they took on the Azacks’ project – including putting in a lift to make the new elevated home more accessible for Mary Ellen Azack.

“Right now, we hope to be in by Christmas,” Frank Azack said. “There is no way we could have gotten through this mess without their help, even if it was just to try to cheer us up when we were having a bad day.”

The OCLTRG’s funding has come from several charitable sources, including the Robin Hood Foundation, Catholic Charities of Trenton, the Salvation Army, the Ocean First Bank Foundation and others.

Since the storm, the group has spent about $7 million to help people get back on their feet, but the funding sources are drying up.

“A lot of the money for ‘unmet needs’ is going away,” said Bridget Holmes, the OCLTRG’s assistant director.

Meanwhile, the need continues. The Ocean County group is now taking on cases from Bergen and Essex counties all the way down to Cape May County.

The group is currently helping 170 families navigate their National Flood Insurance Program appeals and another 65 families with basic needs, such as rental assistance, while their homes remain uninhabitable.

“We’re getting cases all the time,” Holmes said. “We’re picking up about five or 10 a week.”

Marticek describes her agency as “the gray matter” between government rules and the realities of getting things done.

“My mantra is we all have to work together: government, business and nonprofits,” she said. “And many times the nonprofits are in the best position to know the people and their needs because we have the most contact.”

And that leads to another story Marticek loves to tell:

A 96-year-old man got so fed up with the state’s RREM program that he wanted out. The first builder hired by the state to elevate his home, Seneca-SmartJack, left the program with a trail of unfinished homes.

The man waited for builder No. 2. His 95th birthday came and went, then his 96th.

“I mean, the guy is 96! How long should he have to wait!” Marticek said. “He decided he just wanted to live out his life in his unraised home.

“The state says, ‘Fine. You owe us $15,000,’ ” Marticek said. “They wanted him to pay the design costs of raising the house — which was never done. He couldn’t afford it. And it was wrong.”

A few phone calls later, Marticek said, and the state saw the wisdom in avoiding headlines that would have read: “RREM program makes man, 96, homeless.”

The man is back home and the costs for the design that was never implemented went away.

Mark Di Ionno may be reached at mdiionno@starledger.com. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.

By Mark Di Ionno | The Star-Ledger 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 29, 2016 at 8:45 AM, updated October 29, 2016 at 8:46 AM

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/10/ocean_county_group_helps_sandy_victims_soldier_on.html

28 Oct 2016

HURRICANE SANDY SURVIVORS FACE A NEW THREAT — FROM THE STATE

Demands for repayment of grants used for rebuilding, threats of foreclosure are only two of the troubles Sandy victims now have to deal with

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is still tearing up people’s lives four years after the storm wreaked devastation up and down the coast.

Take Julie Suarez. A couple of years after settling back into her Little Egg Harbor house, she got a letter this June from the state demanding she pay back $50,000 of the $150,000 grant she received to rebuild her home after the superstorm.

Joe Karcz is fed up with moving. The disabled pipefitter still is not back in his Beach Haven West home, after relocating more than a dozen times. “You sleep in your own bed,’’ he told legislators, his voice rising, at a hearing on Sandy recovery efforts yesterday. “Try sleeping in 13 beds.’’

Paul Jeffrey is upset the state still does not have a comprehensive coastal resiliency plan four years after 99 percent of the homes in Ortley Beach suffered damage in the storm. A beach club on the water that was destroyed by the storm is up for sale, zoned for 16 oceanfront condos. “In 50 years, it will be gone,’’ he predicted.

Others at the hearing before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee in the State House complained of people trying to rebuild their homes while fighting foreclosure actions at the same time; of being ripped off by corrupt contractors; or of getting little or no help from the state Department of Community Affairs or federal agencies disbursing funds to recover from the storm.

During the hearing, representatives from various nonprofit groups urged the state to quickly move on legislation (A-333) — conditionally vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie in the last session — that would create foreclosure protections for homeowners threatened with the loss of their homes.

“Our residents deserve so much better than what they are getting,’’ said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “There needs to be an immediate moratorium on foreclosures.’’

Probably the most contentious issue raised in the hearing was the suggestion that the state is going after residents who received rebuilding grants under RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation), seeking to recover some of the money.

Suarez said she still cannot understand why the state is asking her to repay a portion of the grant, a demand she cannot possibly afford. “There is no explanation why I have to pay it — at least that is understandable to an educated person.’’

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the chairman of the committee, said this is the first he has heard of such tactics, but vowed to draft a bill to deal with the situation.

“Many of the stories we heard today were heartbreaking, but they were also infuriating because bureaucratic incompetence compounded an already devastating situation and made it nearly unbearable for many victims,’’ Gusciora said. “The common refrain we heard today is that the administration and the DCA, in particular, have failed Sandy victims.’’

The criticism has often been heard during the Sandy recovery process, from complaints about victims being shortchanged by insurance companies; problems navigating the application process among state and federal agencies administering grant programs; to bureaucratic mistakes.

Most recently, the federal government, in an audit, found the state failed to properly oversee a contractor hired to distribute federal aid, and suggested the state may have to reimburse the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development $43 million.

Sandy victims had little good to say about the state’s handling of the Sandy recovery at yesterday’s hearing.

“It’s a rudderless ship and you know what: The money’s running out,’’ Karcz said. “There’s no accountability.’’

The DCA did not respond to a request for comment, but has said in the past that 4,230 homes have been rebuilt. Critics, however, point out that 7,679 homes are participating in the program. “We need to focus on this group of people and make them whole,’’ said Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center.

Others were more pessimistic.

Joe Mangino of Stafford Township worries that the state has no plans to deal with climate change. “Until New Jersey develops a comprehensive plan to deal with sea-level rise, I feel that our future is nothing but a pipe dream.’’

 | OCTOBER 28, 2016

http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/10/27/hurricane-sandy-survivors-face-a-new-threat-from-the-state/

27 Oct 2016

Four years since Sandy, and the storm isn’t over for many Read More: Four years since Sandy, and the storm isn’t over for many

Four years ago Saturday, Superstorm Sandy barreled into New Jersey.

For some, the storm isn’t over yet. And for others, another wave may be coming in the form of increased property taxes.

Still-displaced homeowners took their grievances to an Assembly committee Thursday, which heard more than two hours of testimony that suggested the headaches they’ve dealt with – insufficient flood insurance payouts, unresponsive state recovery programs, unscrupulous contractors – still persist.

“Thousands of New Jersey families are not home yet,” said Doug Quinn, who is among them. “Most people have gone on with their lives. They think it’s over: ‘Sandy? Oh, that’s done.’ But for a lot of us, we still live in this every single days of our lives.”

“You have to understand how these people have lived, what it likes to live like a refugee for all these years,” Quinn said.

In some cases, the old problems been joined by new crises – foreclosures and clawbacks, the latter in which the state is demanding repayment for what it says are duplicative benefits.

Julie Suarez said she got back into her home in June 2015, then got a letter from the Department of Community Affairs demanding that around $50,000 be repaid within 30 days. She doesn’t have that money, says she followed the state rules and hasn’t gotten a clear answer why money must be repaid.

“I feel like my world has been in a chaotic spiral since October 29, 2012,” said Suarez, who said she’s on the brink of foreclosure and asked lawmakers to pass legislation that can give Sandy victims some more breathing room.

Thousands of Jersey Shore residents still not home 4 years after Sandy

Temporary mortgage relief programs have been passed by the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

“This state is going into disarray with foreclosures, and these people are suffering, and it’s not their fault. They were in the state program. And that is just unfair,” Suarez said. “I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to help me. And I want you to help all of us that are still trying to get home.”

Suarez said another person she knows through the New Jersey Organizing Project has been directed to repay $104,000.

Quinn said legislation is needed, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, the chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations Committee, said he is developing a bill.

“The DCA needs to be reined in on this horrible methodology that they do,” Quinn said. “These people need to understand that it’s not their money they’re giving out. They are managing a national resource – our tax money that average, working-class people like myself have paid in. They need to not treat us like we’re criminals. They need to not treat us like we’re asking for favors.”

Many of the complaints were familiar ones about the state’s administration of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program.

“At best, it’s challenging. At worst, it’s completely inept,” said Susan Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group.

Oh, deer! NJ cops make yet another animal rescue from pool

RREM is the largest of the state’s federally funded recovery programs, accounting for more than $1.3 billion in spending of the nearly $4.2 billion received. More than 80 percent of the money has been disbursed to homeowners, said DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan.

However, out of the roughly 7,700 homeowners in the program, only about 700 cases have been fully closed out, said Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center. Ryan said around 5,700 are back in their homes, including 4,300 who have finished construction and 1,400 living there while work is completed.

That leaves close to 2,000 families in the program still displaced. Almost 5,000 additional homeowners had initially been deemed eligible for the RREM program, then dropped out for one reason or another. While 141 had their homes bought through Blue Acres funds, which are used by the state to acquire flood-prone properties, the others withdrew, either voluntarily or administratively, Gordon said.

“They just gave up. And where are they now? Who knows? There’s no tracking going on. What happened to those families? I mean, this is 40 percent of the people. This is not a small number. Forty percent of the people originally found eligible by the state are gone,” Gordon said.

NJ Senate head: Christie’s done a ‘piss poor job’ on Sandy recovery

“Four years later, we still have a lot of work to do,” Gordon said. “I don’t think any of us in October 2012 would have thought that in October 2016 we’d be sitting here hearing these stories today.”

Ryan said the DCA has made constant efforts to streamline the RREM program, such as giving homeowners more flexibility in designing their rebuilding project, and has provided rental assistance programs so people aren’t paying mortgages and rent at the same time.

“We recognize the hardship endured by people who lost so much to Sandy and we recognize there is more work to do. But we have made significant progress in helping households recover from the worst natural disaster in our state’s history,” Ryan said.

Another wave of Sandy’s impacts is on the horizon, Marticek warned.

The state used $136 million of its $4.2 billion in Sandy recovery funds for grants to local governments, to help them maintain services despite having tax ratables destroyed by Sandy.

That program has expired after three years, and the federal government won’t allow more money transferred into it so it can be extended. In some places, that’s going to be mean tax hikes. Toms River, for instance, still has $880 million less in ratables than it did before the storm.

“Wait ‘til the subsidies end,” Marticek said. “Those people that don’t know that Sandy is still going on are going to find out very quickly that even without getting a drop of water in their house, they are going to be dramatically impacted.”

Read More: Four years since Sandy, and the storm isn’t over for many | http://nj1015.com/four-years-since-sandy-and-the-storm-isnt-over-for-many/?trackback=tsmclip

 

http://nj1015.com/four-years-since-sandy-and-the-storm-isnt-over-for-many/

27 Oct 2016

4 years after Sandy, homeowners express frustration, outrage over slow recovery

 

 TRENTON — Victims of Hurricane Sandy unleashed a torrent of frustration and anger at state lawmakers on Thursday over the continued slow recovery process that they say is leading to foreclosures, wasting public money and failing to plan for future storms.

Two days shy of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy pummeling major swaths of New Jersey, the state Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Reform and Federal Relations committees listened to stories of heartbreak, financial ruin and poor planning that victims say continues long after the state’s worst natural disaster.

With speaker after speaker complaining about the slow recovery process, victims hammered at the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, a federally-funded plan designed to help homeowners pay for repairs but has been fraught with problems from the start.

Sandy victims just want to go home

Sandy victims just want to go home

The state’s main housing recovery program came under attack because of slow progress.

Adam Gordon, associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center, said that of the thousands of people who were expected to have been helped through that program by now, only 699 cases have been completed.

He said that of the 15,000 property owners applied for the RREM program, 12,500 were deemed eligible. Since then, thousands have dropped out of the program for unknown reasons, leaving just under 7,000 property owners still moving through that process, Gordon said.

“We are far from finishing the job,” Gordon said, noting the state expects to spend all the Sandy aid funding by the end of this fiscal year next June.

“We need to finish the job because these funds were supposed to make people whole and we’re just too far away…from making sure that happens,” he said.

One woman said that after following all the RREM rules and being back in her home for two years, she recently received a letter claiming she owes $51,000 to various Sandy aid programs without any explanation.

“I don’t know what these numbers are and I honestly have no idea how I’m going to repay them,” she said.

Joe Karcz, who’s still not back in his home in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township, asked for a law granting Sandy victims waivers from the financial penalties of early withdrawals from their pensions.

Sandy Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, called the renewal of an effort to place a 3-year moratorium on foreclosures for Sandy victims, to replace the bill Gov. Chris Christie vetoed in January.

“Because the process took so long, they are then in a position to lose their home,” Berger said. “That’s unconscionable.”

Allowing foreclosures to occur on homes that had been repaired by Sandy aid would be a waste of public funds, she said.

Susan Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group, said one in five calls her organization gets weekly is from a Sandy victim facing foreclosure.

Paul Jeffrey, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Tax Payers Association, criticized the state for failing to plan for future storms beyond a massive beach replenishment project for the coastline.

He cited the example of the former Joey Harrison’s Surf Club in town, which was destroyed by Sandy. The oceanfront property is now for sale, but the state won’t buy it through its Green Acres program because it instead wants large swaths rather than individual parcels.

Yet the site is approved for 16 oceanfront condominiums which will most likely be destroyed in another major storm, Jeffrey said.

“The recovery is far from complete…We think it’s at least three to five years before the tax base is back and we’re fully recovered,” Jeffrey said. “And that’s scary because you have heard and we all know (that) funds are drying up.”

MaryAnn Spoto may be reached at mspoto@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on October 27, 2016 at 4:00 PM, updated October 27, 2016 at 4:13 PM