Some families displaced by Hurricane Sandy could be living in hotels and motels for months because of the large number of homes destroyed and a shortage of replacement rental housing.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Michael McCormack said Thursday that the agency’s goal is to put people in housing as quickly as possible, but he admitted it will not be easy.
“We know that having a home means so much, especially around the holidays,” he said. “But it is going to be a challenge to get everyone into a home in a short time.”
He said FEMA has extended housing benefits through Nov. 28 and will continue them as long as necessary.
Area Realtors said there isn’t a huge amount of available year-round housing in the area, but some have seen new listings come up since the storm as people see the opportunity to rent out their homes.
Atlantic City officials said they will have a hot line operating today to begin to identify how many residents in the city need housing assistance. The hot line is only for city residents.
Tom Foley, director of Atlantic City’s Office of Emergency Management, said he estimates 600 to 800 homes are uninhabitable because of the storm, but people may still be living in some of them or are staying with family elsewhere.
“We are trying to determine that now,” Foley said. He added that the hot line at 609-347-6865 will operate during working hours Monday through Friday, and callers will be investigated to make sure they are living in the city. “We have already had a few people who claimed to be living at an address that’s vacant.”
FEMA has already registered 211,339 individuals and households statewide for some type of assistance and has distributed $167 million, FEMA media relations manager Scott Sanders said.
Ocean County has the highest local number of registrants at 44,281. There are 17,088 registrants in Atlantic County, 4,252 in Cape May County and 367 in Cumberland County, but not all of them registered for housing assistance.
The state has set up a Disaster Housing Task Force that has been meeting daily and is expected to present is plan shortly, Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan wrote in an email. The task force includes the Department of Community Affairs, New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other key stakeholders.
Ryan said the task force has identified about 5,000 rental housing units statewide, working with real estate agents, housing authorities and the hotel/motel industry.
FEMA also has a housing website with rental listings. A review of that site Thursday showed few listings in South Jersey, including 10 units in Atlantic City, each at $1,000 a month or more. There were eight apartments listed in Absecon, one in Egg Harbor Township, three in Ventnor, nine in Little Egg Harbor Township and two in Manahawkin.
Danielle Alpert, government affairs assistant director for the New Jersey Association of Realtors, said the association is notifying its members of the website so they can post available properties there.
State officials have announced that they are preparing the former Fort Monmouth military facility as temporary housing, and Ryan said they are also evaluating state- and federally owned property that may be available as housing resources. She said they have also eased some permitting requirements to help people get back into their homes more quickly.
FEMA has also moved about 40 modular home units into the state, though there is no determination yet as to whether or where they will be used. There are no plans to place units at Bader Field in Atlantic City, FEMA officials said.
“That would be a state and local decision,” McCormack said.
Foley said Atlantic City has a committee to work on identifying more permanent housing and that right now modular units are not part of the plan because city officials first want to determine just what is needed.
Area real estate agents said winter rentals could help those who need just a few months to repair their homes, but there are fewer options for those looking for year-round rentals.
Dennis Allen, owner of Ashore Realty in Brigantine, said he saw a wave of new rentals on the market after the storm, and while most are winter rentals, some are year-round. He said he has been getting calls, but most are from local homeowners who hope to move back into their own homes and just need temporary housing while their homes are repaired.
Cape May County Association of Realtors President Brian Groetsch said there is traditionally a winter rental market at the shore, but homeowners typically want to use or rent the property in the summers and would not consider a year-round tenant. Michael Monihan of Monihan Real Estate in Ocean City agreed, saying he has not seen an increase in rentals because many of his homeowners use their homes in the winter or rent them on the weekends.
“People show the houses in the winter for summer renters, and they don’t want to risk losing that revenue,” he said. “There’s also the wear and tear on a unit when it’s used long-term that may not make it worth it for some homeowners.”
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