Group opens center to help Atlantic City residents dealing with long-term damage from Sandy
Atlantic City’s casinos and Boardwalk escaped any major damage from Hurricane Sandy, but there is a different story in the resort’s neighborhoods.
Some properties in the city will be grappling with problems caused by the October storm for the next two or three years, local religious, social service and public safety leaders said Wednesday morning.
Shore communities further north were harder hit. But more than 9,000 city properties are seeking FEMA assistance. Of those, 47 percent have been deemed unsafe and 47 percent also were uninsured when Sandy hit, said the Rev. Collins Days of Second Baptist Church, which hosted the first public meeting Wednesday of the recently formed Long-Term Recovery Group.
He called the situation catastrophic for Atlantic City because so many residents are marginal to begin with. Without insurance, he said, the only way to get these victims back in their homes is through volunteer contractors and donated supplies.
“To compound that situation, the casinos and tourism (industry), they’re spending millions of dollars to get out the message that Atlantic City is perfect, the Boardwalk is fine, we’re open for business,” Days said. “But in the shadow of the casinos, you have all these residents who have been displaced. We understand the industry has to go on. The problem is, when you’re trying to get volunteers and the volunteers are hearing, ‘Atlantic City is fine’ ... they’re going to go north (instead).”
Wednesday morning’s meeting at the church on Rev. Dr. Issac S Coles Plaza was around the corner from the Long-Term Recovery Group’s office at 101 S. New York Ave. The session drew about 30 case managers, other church leaders, and law enforcement and emergency management personnel.
Among the group’s priorities: launching a website, finding a warehouse to store heaters and other appliances residents need replaced, as well as finalizing a deal with the Atlantic City Public School District to use the New Jersey Avenue School for volunteer contractors until the district sells the 82,000-square-foot building as planned, the group’s chief of operations Craig Snow said.
“That’s been the hindrance for having volunteers to come and help us: we have nowhere to house them,” Snow said. “It’s been a nightmare for our volunteers.”
The resort has plenty of hotel rooms, some of which sit empty during the slower winter season. But getting those provided for free, at a discount or even at all is “complicated” because volunteer agencies need long-term accommodations through the summer, when operators are simply booked or loathe block out rooms that would fetch top rate, Snow said.
Snow is a program director with nonprofit Hope Force International. Headquartered in Brentwood, Tenn., the organization travels to disaster areas and establishes frameworks locally to facilitate and fund longterm — two or three years, in Atlantic City’s case — recovery.
Hope Force isn’t opening a long-term recovery center anywhere else in Atlantic County. Atlantic City was picked as the host community because the resort is home to more than half of county residents dealing with long-term issues caused by the storm, Snow said.
Also involved in the Long-Term Recovery Group is Ocean Inc., which is administering $1 million in state DCA home-rebuilding grants for Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties, Ocean Inc. President and CEO Ted Gooding said. Gooding’s Toms River-based nonprofit is the DCA’s program administrator for the region.
“We are more than willing to assist your families with heaters, hot water heaters, insulation, roofs gutters — just about anything they need by calling our office. We’ll send out an auditor ... within two to three days,” said Gooding, also chair of Ocean County’s Long-Term Recovery Group.
Household must have an income at or below 200 percent of the local poverty level to qualify for the zero-match, need-dependent grants, he said.
Another focus of the Long-Term Recovery Group is getting resources to residents, both homeowners and renters, who often must deal with absentee landlords, city Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said.
Once the audit is complete, case managers figure out what kind of help the property qualifies for and then guide clients through the process of getting that assistance. Part of that could include recommending or contracting plumbing, construction, electrical and other repair firms, Days said.
Foley stressed the need for homeowners to involve the city and its inspectors by getting permits.
“Even though we’re waiving the fees for reconstruction, we need you to take out permits for the work to make sure it’s done properly, especially electrical, plumbing and heating work,” Foley said. “That’s vital ... because we have a lot of problems with people who are out there running around, saying they’re carpenters and electricians and plumbers who are putting people in unsafe situation. We’re seeing a lot of electrical fires (as a result).”
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