Jane Peltonen learned last week she may receive as much as $150,000 in grant money to rebuild her Brigantine house, which suffered major damage during Hurricane Sandy.
But she didn't start to feel hopeful until Monday morning, when a state-hired appraiser called to make an appointment.
"My feeling was maybe we wouldn't get it, but the fact that he's coming, it's like wow. Someone is actually coming and going to tell you something," Peltonen said. "Maybe it's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Like many shore homeowners whose houses suffered damage during Hurricane Sandy, news last week of whether they would receive - at least preliminarily - coveted rebuilding grants worth up to $150,000 marked either a moment of relief or further dread.
The state announced Monday that demand for the two grants - one for rebuilding and another "resettlement" grant that would be an incentive to keep homeowners in their homes in storm-damaged neighborhoods - far outweighed how much money was available. New Jersey received $1.8 billion in April as part of the $60 billion disaster aid package approved by Congress in January. Of that money, $780 million was allotted for the two grant programs.
The initial application period ended June 30, but homeowners can still apply, with those most in need still receiving the highest priority. But because of the demand, the state has set a final application deadline of Aug. 1, Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard E. Constable III said in a news release.
"We realistically will not be able to provide grants to all eligible applicants," Constable said. "While we remain hopeful that New Jersey will receive another round of federal funding in the fall, we have decided that closing the application period on Aug. 1 is appropriate at this time."
As of June 30, 12,255 people had applied for the rebuilding grants, which will pay the difference between what insurance settlements and Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance covered and the actual cost for rebuilding and elevating houses to meet new flood standards.
About 8,500 people were approved for a grant, but only 3,500, or 41 percent, will receive money during the first funding period, DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said. The remaining applicants will be put on a wait list, Ryan said.
Ryan said those who were preliminarily approved for the grants would not be bumped off the list by someone with greater need who applied after the June 30 deadline.
By June 30, 15,444 residents had applied for the $10,000 resettlement grants, with about 16,000 grants available. Information was not available Monday on how many of the applicants were qualified for the funds, which can't be used for construction costs but can go toward paying for things such as furniture and future flood insurance.
Unlike Peltonen, William Halbeisen has not received good news about his grant applications. Despite Halbeisen's Manahawkin home suffering major damage during the storm, which sent four and a half feet of water into the flood-prone house on Mill Creek, he was told in a letter he was one of about 2,800 applicants that were not eligible for the grants.
Halbeisen, who has lived in the house since 1989, said he was confused as to which part of the requirements he did not meet. His annual income is below the median threshold for Ocean County, and the house suffered damage well beyond 50 percent of the pre-storm value. He can file an appeal, which he plans to do this week.
"I had someone ready to elevate about five weeks ago and then (the grant program) came out saying, if you did work now, you're not eligible (for reimbursement)," he said. "I don't know what else to do. You play by the rules and you get spun around in a circle."
Ryan said those who made repairs or elevated houses that were damaged beyond the 50 percent threshold would not be able to be reimbursed through the grant because the federal government requires an environmental review. However, those whose houses were less damaged may be eligible for reimbursement if the house passes the environmental review, but only if there is money in the program to pay for repairs to lesser damaged properties, Ryan said.
Kim Lovecchio, of Ventnor Heights, also learned last week she was preliminarily approved for the rebuilding and resettlement grants. The next part of the application process is to speak with case managers and present paperwork, including tax returns, insurance documents and receipts for all expenses for repairs, she said.
However, Lovecchio said she will not be convinced she will receive any funding until work begins. She also was concerned about where her family would live while her house was being elevated.
Sandy's floodwaters did not reach inside the house but destroyed the heating system and damaged floors and the crawlspace. Lovecchio's house also needs to be elevated because the value of the damage exceeded the 50 percent threshold.
"I know there's only a certain amount of money available. I would want the people who need it more to get it," she said. "But to really complete this, I'm going to need some of that grant money, so I'm just saying my prayers every day and hope they can help me somehow."
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