As recovery from Hurricane Sandy continues, area long-term recovery groups continue gearing up to meet needs that many low- to moderate-income residents may still have.
Long-term recovery groups step in after the immediate disaster response is close to ending. The groups in New Jersey began forming in late winter. They are funded through private grants, including those through the Robin Hood Foundation, the Red Cross and other charities that solicited donations following the storm.
Some of the groups, such as the one in Atlantic City, have been working with renters and homeowners for months. Others, such as the one in Cape May County, are just beginning construction.
Barry Keefe, director of Cape May’s Long Term Recovery Group, said the delay in the Federal Emergency Management Agency releasing preliminary working flood maps has held back recovery because many homeowners did not know what the gap between insurance settlements and the cost to make the repairs to meet new codes would be. The Cape May group is set to start construction on its first group of houses in the next week.
In other areas, long-term recovery groups said they were struggling to find residents who needed help. Often that was due to a general fear that the groups might be similar to scammers that already targeted low-income and vulnerable residents. However, that fear is beginning to dwindle as some are seeing the work the groups are doing, said Carol Witt, supervisor for case management with the Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group.
“I think they’re feeling a little more comfortable coming in,” Witt said of the eight to 10 people calling for help every week. “Word of mouth is really important and if they have a neighbor that has had their home restored, I think that’s helping a lot to dispel people’s concerns.”
Work in Atlantic City has been moving along for months. The long-term recovery group there has 41 active construction sites, Witt said. Since the recovery group started, workers there have done intakes for 414 renters and homeowners and 171 of those intakes are now closed, meaning those residents have received assistance, Witt said.
However, some groups still are having trouble reaching residents who may be most at risk of falling through the cracks. Henry Wise, who chairs the Atlantic County Long Term Recovery Group, said he is frustrated that some people who still have major damage from Sandy’s floodwaters won’t accept help.
“We have money and we can help these people. It’s getting very frustrating,” he said.
Wise said the group is most poised to help homeowners who have received small grants or settlements, but not enough money to complete the work.
The group also can help replace furniture, he said. While the group is not handling elevations right now, Wise said, that type of work may be something the group will take on down the road.
Unlike the grant programs run through the state, the long-term recovery groups have flexibility in determining which homeowners and renters can be helped.
Wise said that while the Atlantic County group in general does not do work on second homes, he believes a few second-homeowners could end up having repairs made in exchange for allowing the recovery group to temporarily house primary homeowners while their houses are being fixed.
“A lot of these people have no place to go. We have to find a place to put them,” Wise said.
The flexibility of using philanthropy-funded grants means the Cape May County recovery group can try to help those homeowners with very gray situations, Keefe said. For example, he said, there are a few homeowners who technically list their primary residence out of state for tax purposes, but live in New Jersey much of the year.
“Snowbirds are a real challenge. People who have figured out a way just to survive in relatively inexpensive housing down south and come back here. That might disqualify them, but they might be really struggling,” Keefe said.
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To learn more
To contact a long-term recovery group in your municipality, call 211. The groups can help with repairs and reconstruction as well as appliance replacement, furniture replacement and other needs. The groups do not handle elevation requests. Residents must go through an intake process and provide documentation of what they already have received and what their need still is.