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20 Dec 2016

Sandy foreclosure bill heads to governor

TRENTON — A bill that would protect Sandy victims for foreclosure is on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk after the measure was approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Senators Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, and Brian Stack, D-Hudson, had already passed the Assembly earlier this year.

MORE:  Brick relief center to reopen in new location

The bill would offer temporary foreclosure protection to Sandy victims who have been approved for assistance through the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) and Low- and Moderate- Income (LMI) rebuilding programs, or those who have received rental assistance from FEMA as a result of property damaged caused by the storm.

Sandy victims would have to apply to the state Department of Community Affairs for foreclosure protection.

The bill has been praised by Sandy advocates, including the New Jersey Organizing Project, who say that the state’s hardest-hit areas have only partially recovered from the storm. Many homeowners are still struggling to rebuild, advocates say.

MORE SANDY:  New $8 million Berkeley park to reopen in 2018

The mortgage forbearance period would be either a year after a certificate of occupancy for recovery and rebuilding program work has been issued, or July 1, 2019, whichever is earlier. For properties in foreclosure, it would be 10 days after a sheriff’s sale.

“The process of securing state and federal recovery funds is long and complex,” Beck said in a prepared statement. “It’s been four years and yet we still have 3,200 Sandy victims eager to complete elevation and construction projects, including some that have just begun.

SURVEY:  Sandy survey seeks truth about victims’ experiences

“Providing a pathway to prevent foreclosure will protect families who are struggling to fund both a mortgage and rent from losing the very home they have spent years trying to rebuild,” Beck said. “It’s the right thing to do and I look forward to seeing the bill signed into law as swiftly as possible.”

The legislation would also direct the DCA commissioner to notify Sandy-impacted families of their eligibility for foreclosure protections and post eligibility information on the department’s website.

The commissioner must also notify courts and mortgage lenders of individuals who are eligible for such protections.

The bill also contains protections for Sandy victims who have experienced delays in the RREM and LMI programs.

RELATED: Christie vetoes homeowner foreclosure bill

DCA would be reqquired to extend the completion deadline for projects funded RREM and LMI for applicants who can demonstrate the delay was the fault of their builder or due to delays by the DCA in approving the builder doing the project, according to Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, who sponsored the Assembly’s version of the legislation.

If an application for aid under the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program (TBRA), LMI, or RREM program is denied, the DCA would have to provide the applicant with an explanation for the denial, and an explanation for ways to remedy the application.

“As if having your life disrupted by Mother Nature was not enough, these homeowners were failed by the very entities tasked with their recovery,” Houghtaling, D-Monmouth, said in a prepared statement. “These provisions can help cut the red-tape they’ve been dealing with and finally get them back on track.”

Jean Mikle: (732) 643-4050,

, @jeanmikle

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,

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

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 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

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.

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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 |

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 Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find on Facebook.

MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy MaryAnn Spoto | NJ Advance Media for 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 27, 2016 at 4:00 PM, updated October 27, 2016 at 4:13 PM
18 Oct 2016

Exclusive: Sandy, homebuilders and broken promise

First it was the insurers, then the government and now it’s the contractors that are frustrating Sandy victims

Five months and you’ll be back home. That was the promise Price Home Group made in a contract with Patricia Bollman and Maureen Molz, a Brick couple among the thousands at the Shore who lost their home to superstorm Sandy.

Now three years later, after making $187,000 in payments and enduring months of delays, unreturned calls, and what she claimed as shoddy workmanship, Bollman is convinced Price Home Group was only looking after itself.

The rebuilding experience was filled with “tremendous emotional pain and heartache,” Bollman told the Asbury Park Press. “It is my opinion, PHG didn’t care if it was (disaster aid) money, my money, another customer’s money or insurance money. To PHG, it was all their money.”

At the end of August, a state Superior Court jury in Ocean County sided with Bollman and Molz in their breach-of-contract claim against Price Home Group, awarding the couple $300,000 in compensative damages. It marked the first such victory at trial in New Jersey for a Sandy-affected homeowner against a contractor.

The landmark proceeding is part of what many regard as the next wave in the Shore’s post-Sandy rebuild — the filing of lawsuits targeted at contractors who disappointed customers in sundry ways — from failing to complete projects to performing second-rate work, or never showing up after accepting payment.

GAS TAX: What people are saying about the 23-cent hike

The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General has cited 135 violations for unregistered or non-compliant contractors in Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic counties since January 2013, and sought nearly $1.3 million in restitution for customers, according to the office.

Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, said she has seen more homeowners at the group’s workshops who have been victims of contractor fraud. Others are involved in disputes with contractors who have not completed work or performed poorly.

Price Home Group alone is involved in at least 15 lawsuits alleging breach of contracts with customers. A pending civil action by the state alleges fraud, among other claims.

For Sandy victims, the new legal tangles follow years of squabbling with insurers, unscrupulous engineers, and the exasperation that accompanies glacially paced government recovery programs.

But lawsuits, while usually the last resort for settling disputes, may provide only a Pyrrhic victory to some property owners.

Marticek notes that it is difficult for homeowners to recover money from a builder through the legal system, even if the builder has been charged with fraud.

Many builders — including all three founders of Price Home Group — have declared bankruptcy or are otherwise insolvent.

“There is really no leverage for the homeowner in these cases, and that’s become a problem,” Marticek said.

The collapse of Price Home Group, which denied any wrongdoing in court papers, revives long-running questions about the state’s oversight and vetting of builders.

The now-defunct company was one of the original contractors approved by the state to serve homeowners in New Jersey’s primary rebuilding program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) program — an initiative paid for with your tax dollars.

Internal financial reports filed in court show the partners of the Stafford-based builder pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the operation as profit — while they were buying expensive cars and taking international trips — even as the company’s financial situation was deteriorating.

Fifty-one homeowners selected Price Home Group, which trumpeted its state-approved status on the company’s website, as their RREM contractor. Of those projects, fewer than half — just 22 — were seen through to completion, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

The RREM program evolved to give homeowners more freedom — and responsibility — regarding the selection of their contractors, instead of having the state acting as the matchmaker.

With such responsibility has come headaches.

Sandy recedes, but a surge of money follows

Price Home Group was formed on Feb. 6, 2013 — 100 days after Sandy made landfall. The venture was a three-man partnership: brothers Jeremy and Jonathan Price, an attorney and contractor, respectively, and Scott Cowan, a Newark pawnshop owner.

Cowan and Jonathan Price each kicked in $5,000 while Jeremy Price pledged his equity in the form of legal work, according to depositions and bankruptcy filings. From that $10,000 initial investment, the start-up would go on to amass more than $25 million in home sales and contracted work, some of it paid for with federal disaster grants, according to Cowan’s attorney.

The venture was lucrative while it lasted.

(story continues below)

Internal documents entered into Jonathan Price’s bankruptcy case show he and Cowan drew up to $32,000 a month each out of the business, with the outflow beginning just weeks after the business was formed.

A transactions sheet shows Jonathan Price taking $405,338 out of Price Home Group’s coffers, most of it labeled as a partner distribution or member’s draw, from April 2013 through the end of 2014.

Cowan was making similar withdrawals, including one for $5,000 – equal to his initial investment – within five weeks of the company’s birth.

A customer’s deposit was supposed to reserve their modular home with the Price Home Group’s supplier. Evidence presented during the Bollman-Molz trial showed that money from new projects often went to paying for materials and work on older contracts that had been neglected for months.

Once the Bollman-Molz’s declined to make any more payments, the Price Home Group left the project, according to court documents.

The work at the home remained incomplete and required the couple to hire other workers so the reconstruction could pass inspections, which it did in October 2014 — about eight months after the Price Home Group contract said the couple would be able to move home.

“If they told my clients upfront that we’re going to use your money for something else, like salary or trips, that we’re going to wait for another sale to come in to order your house, my clients would have said no,” said the Brick couple’s attorney, Mark Molz. “Anybody with common sense would say no. They took advantage of bright people, but people who were already victimized by the hurricane.”

Bankruptcy records also show the principals buying a new Mercedes-Benz and a $35,000 Toyota Tacoma while the money was still rolling in. They traveled to Italy, Indonesia and Las Vegas.

“They had no ability to put up the homes that they were selling. They had no thought they could complete all those homes,” said attorney Molz, who is also Maureen Molz’s brother. “They claimed more of a capacity and experience than they actually had and, in my opinion, were strictly about getting the money without any thoughts to producing a quality home in a timely fashion.”

(story continues below)

Price Home Group folded while still owing homes to 19 customers.

Christopher Adams, attorney to Cowan, one of the principals, blamed the business’s failure on rule changes, slow state payments and poor work by some subcontractors, which Price Home later sued. Jonathan Price declined to comment.

The company, according to its owners, completed 70 homes in less than two years. They also elevated 20 homes, although the state says Price Home Group was never licensed to lift houses.

The bankruptcy filings reveal Cowan and Jonathan Price racked up thousands in credit card debt after a key supplier pulled out. They sold waterfront land in Stafford and poured the sale’s proceeds back into the business, the bankruptcy documents show.

Adams said that the two partners put $600,000 back into the company, reducing their annual salary to an average of $111,000 in each of the three years.

Jeremy Price, who says he has since severed ties with the company that bears his family name, reiterated the defense’s courtroom claim: the Ballman-Molz were inflexible and wanted to ruin the Price Home Group in court.

“This was a bad decision at the conclusion of a bad trial and we are very confident that it will be overturned on appeal,” Price said. “PHG built and completed approximately 70 homes in New Jersey in a very short time and these plaintiffs like to pretend that is not a reality. These plaintiffs were after dollar signs and headlines and it appears they have succeeded in that for now.”

The state Attorney General’s Office has filed civil suits alleging consumer fraud against five contractors since July, including Price Home Group.

In that lawsuit, which names Jonathan Price and Scott Cowan individually, the Price Home Group is accused of taking $1.1 million in payments and failing to deliver on the contracted work. About $900,000 of that total was disaster grants paid for with federal tax dollars.

Who’s protecting our money?

Before the first homeowners signed up with Price Home Group, the state of New Jersey welcomed the company into the fold.

Price Home Group was approved to join RREM’s pool of “qualified builders” in 2013, a fact touted in company marketing materials.

Initially, the task of hiring homebuilders was handled within the RREM program, using only those companies identified as qualified builders. Later, the state got out of that part of the rebuilding business entirely — directing all homeowners entering the program to choose their own contractors.

(story continues below)

To participate in RREM, the state checks that a company has the proper licenses, is registered to do business in New Jersey and hasn’t been debarred from doing business with the government, according to Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs. The office oversees RREM, the $1.1-billion housing recovery program covered by anybody who pays federal taxes.

Testimony made in depositions shows that Jonathan Price and Cowan lied about their educational attainment in their RREM applications. Both claimed to be university graduates, but Price said he had only a few months in community college and Cowan acknowledged that he dropped out of high school.

Nonetheless, the company would be assigned five home construction projects by the state.

In April and May 2015, all of those projects were transferred to other builders to complete — at Price Home Group’s request, Ryan said, and not as a result of any performance issues. It continued to be the general contractor of record for at least 20 of the ongoing projects — rebuilds where it had been selected by the  homeowner.

“Everybody was trying”

The death knell for Price Home Group came when Ritz-Craft, the manufacturer that supplied the builder’s modular homes, terminated the relationship at the end of September 2015. It cited Price Home Group’s “bleak and dire financial situation” as the basis for severing ties, according to the lawsuit.

In a lawsuit  that followed, Ritz-Craft acknowledges it had received a grand jury subpoena from “New Jersey state court” seeking paperwork related to Price Home Group.

The Office of the New Jersey Attorney General and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment.

Price Home Group should be judged on the circumstances at the time, Joyce Bartlett, the Price Home Group’s accountant, told the Press.

“Everybody was trying,” she said of the rebuilding climate. “The builders, the construction departments … but when you have a 300-year storm come in and literally destroys thousands of homes at once you had chaos — you have chaos.”

, Asbury Park Press

12 Aug 2016

3 things to know about flood insurance workshops

TOMS RIVER — Need help with a flood insurance claim, contractor fraud or problem with the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program?

The Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group has four workshops scheduled to help people deal with these issues.

The long-term recovery group, an umbrella organization of about 80 nonprofit groups, is sponsoring the workshops in conjunction with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice and the Community Health Law Project.

The workshops will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on these dates: Aug. 17, Ocean County Library, 101 Washington St., Toms River;  Aug. 22, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 936 Baltic Ave., Atlantic City; Little Egg Community Center, 319 W. Calabreese Way, Little Egg Harbor, and Sept. 7, Middletown Library, 55 New Monmouth Road, Middletown.

Residents interested in attending a workshop can call (732) 569-3484.

Here are three issues the workshops will address:

1. Problems with flood insurance payments. The long-term recovery group has been offering free legal advice for Sandy victims who feel that they were underpaid by their flood insurance.

According to FEMA, 6,905 policy holders who reopened their flood claims have been paid more than $93.8 million through July 28.

BUY-OUTS: Shore still left out

2. Issues with RREM. The long-term recovery group has been assisting residents who are still struggling to complete projects through the state’s largest reconstruction program for Sandy homeowners.

3. Contractor fraud. The workshops will give advice to homeowners who have had issues with contractors.

“We have been trying to assist homeowners who are ‘stuck’ in the recovery process for a variety of reasons,” said Sue Marticek, executive director of the long-term recovery group.

Jean Mikle: (732) 643-4050,

, @jeanmikle

27 Jun 2016

First Sandy devastated her. Then the state did.

Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, calls for investigation of FEMA. Iphone video by Jean Mikle

Two years after awarding grants for Laurie Fox’s storm-damaged Lacey home, the government wants its money back. The reason is nuts.

After her Lacey home got pummeled by superstorm Sandy, Laurie Fox received two relief grants totaling nearly $14,000 from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs.

Her nightmare finally seemed to be ending.

In fact, it was just beginning.

In 2015, two years after awarding the money, the state demanded it back. The reason: She failed to prove it was her primary address.

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So Fox gathered documentation, including four years’ worth of homestead rebates and notarized affidavits from several neighbors, but an administrative judge ruled against her earlier this month. Now she’s been devastated twice: First by Sandy, then by the system.

“The whole thing is just sick,” Fox said. “You wonder, how many other people did they do this to?”

‘The smallest technicality’

The Asbury Park Press reviewed documents related to the case. Here is the quick summary:

  • Fox bought the three-bedroom ranch in the Forked River section of Lacey in 2002 and used it as a rental property while she lived in the Bergen County town of Little Ferry with her friend Cliff Palifrone.
  • In 2008 she moved to the Lacey home to care for her father, who was battling cancer. After he died that year, Fox stayed there with her two pit bulls until storm damage forced them to move back to Little Ferry in October of 2012.
  • Fox, who is 50, has a learning disability and relies on the 55-year-old Palifrone to handle much of her finances. Some of her bills go to the Lacey address, some go to Little Ferry. Because of her reliance on Palifrone, she did not change her driver’s license from Little Ferry to Lacey prior to the storm. That became Exhibit A in the DCA’s quest for a refund, even though the DCA was aware of the discrepancy when awarding Fox the resettlement and RREM grants.
20 Jun 2016

Summer is back — except for some Sandy victims | Di Ionno

The door to Laurie Fox’s house won’t open.

Maybe it’s damp mildew inside that caused the door to expand in the heat. Maybe it’s the sagging roof.

Either way, it’s a metaphor for the post-Sandy mess that has kept Fox out of her house for 43 months, with no prospect of returning.

Fox’s home is in Forked River Beach, a section of Lacey Township. And, like thousands of others, she continues to live somewhere else. For many Jersey Shore residents “the disaster after the disaster” – shorthand for the Sandy recovery – continues as another summer approaches.

Over the last few weekends, Gov. Christie Christie did his annual Shore tour, walking the boards at Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant and Asbury Park.

“It’s to remind folks how great the Jersey Shore is and how great we’ve recovered from Sandy …,” said Christie said in downtown Ocean Grove a few days ago.

“In threeandahalf years – with the exception of a couple of thousands residents across the entire Shore who have not moved back into their homes – businesses are back, almost all of the residents are back in their homes,” he said. “That’s a pretty extraordinary recovery and I want to make sure people know about that and to feel free to come down here …”

By “people,” he means tourists and by “down here,” he means the beachfront towns. By those measures, Christie is right.

In the Belmars and Point Pleasants and Seasides of the Shore, the boardwalks are new, the pavilions are open and the beaches have been expanded.

But the Sandy recovery is really a tale of two Shores.

The 127-mile tourism stretch from Sandy Hook to Cape May is open for business. The rental market is healthy, boardwalk rides are spinning and you again have to wait in line for an ice cream cone.

I think it’s a conspiracy to drive out people like me so the developers can take over.” — Laurie Fox, Sandy victim
19 Jun 2016

The Jersey Shore is losing year-round residents by the thousands


Empty shore boardwalk.JPG
The Seaside boardwalk in the winter. Without summer residents, the New Jersey shore population has been steadily declining because of Sandy and economic difficulties. (Alex Remnick | NJ Advance Media for (Alex Remnick)

As the Jersey Shore swells in population from tourists this summer, something is still missing — the full-time residents it has lost in the past 10 years.

While New Jersey increased in population by nearly 3 percent from 2005 to 2014, the average town along the coast experienced a 9 percent decline, a NJ Advance Media review of Census data found. That shift likely reflects major issues in Sandy recovery and the changing economic landscape of Shore towns.

In some towns, the losses are particularly stark. Sea Isle City lost 38 percent of its population in the 10 years. Beach Haven lost 36 percent.

Larger towns with significant inland populations may not make the top 10, but still suffered significant losses. Toms River, for example, bled nearly 3,800 residents over the last decade, though most of those losses were likely near the Shore.

The population in New Jersey has tended to increase in urban areas and decrease in rural areas over the past decade. But a closer review of the areas in Shore counties — Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean — reveals that towns along the coast are losing their residents.

Shore residents are experiencing the results of this change.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said that enrollment in schools there have shrunk from 18,000 students to 16,500.

John Ducey, the mayor of Brick, also noted a drop in school population. He attributed the change to vacation homeowners pushing out full-time residents.

But he also said Sandy’s traumatic effect was a factor.

“People move out because they didn’t want to deal with a second Sandy, or they couldn’t get insurance or FEMA [assistance],” he said.