Sandy repairs await grant decisions
Jane and August Peltonen have three ideas for how they can fix their Brigantine house, which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
But they won't make any decisions until they find out whether they will receive grant money.
"I am not going to have more broken dreams," Jane Peltonen said. "I'm going to wait and see what they will advise me that will meet codes, and will fit in the grants" if the couple receives one.
Starting Monday, the Department of Community Affairs is expected to begin letting applicants know whether or not they will receive a grant, or whether they will be put on a waiting list for future grants. The agency will begin sending letters to those who filed during the initial application period, which ended June 30.
One grant, for as much as $150,000, is designed to help homeowners rebuild and elevate their storm damaged houses. A second grant, of $10,000, is designed as an incentive to keep homeowners in their storm-damaged communities. That "resettlement" grant can't be used for construction costs, but can be used to pay for things such as furniture and even future flood insurance costs.
As of June 30, 15,442 applications had been filed for rebuilding grants and 12,255 were filed for the resettlement grants, said DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. As many as 6,000 rebuilding grants totaling $600 million are available under the $1.8 billion allotment approved in April, and as many as 18,000 resettlement grants are available totaling $180 million.
The agency is still accepting applications, and those with the most need - determined by the severity of the damage, how much insurance money has been paid out and the amount of a homeowner's income, will still be prioritized, Ryan said.
More grant money from the $60 billion aid package approved by Congress in January is expected to be released sometime this fall, Ryan said.
Shortly after the storm, the Peltonens gutted the first floor of their north end house, which has an attached first-floor apartment that the couple rents out for extra money in the summer. But the insurance money still sits in escrow accounts, while the couple determines how they will rebuild so that the house is not flooded again.
Solutions resemble a real-life game of Tetris. If they raise the single-story original bungalow, which was a summer apartment, they must remove the decks from the three-story addition that they live in. Turn the older portion into a garage and they will lose half of the bedrooms and much of the house's value.
So one option the couple has is to lift the apartment and build a garage beneath. Another option is to demolish the apartment and put a modular atop a new garage. And a third option is to use what insurance money they have received and pay off the mortgage and go without flood insurance.
Either way, she said, the couple will convert the first floor of the three-story portion of the house into non-living space to meet flood standards. Lifting the entire structure, she said, is probably too costly - the current estimate of $85,000 does not include related construction costs.
Kim Lovecchio also is waiting for a decision on her grant application to determine how soon she can rebuild her Ventnor Heights home. The house suffered flooding in the crawlspace, but that destroyed the building's heating system and all of the first-floor floors. The value of the damage, Lovecchio, exceeds 50 percent of the value of the house prior to the storm, a determining factor for whether homeowners must also elevate the building to new flood standards.
"The only thing I had done in all these months was I had my crawlspaces cleaned out," Lovecchio said. The heating and air conditioning system was repaired a few weeks ago. All money spent for the repairs, she said, has come out of current living expenses, because her mortgage company won't reimburse the costs out of insurance settlements until all work is complete.
"I'm hopeful for any help they're willing to give period. It's not like I have any expectations on it," Lovecchio said. "If I don't get help, (the house) is going to be sitting unfinished for awhile."
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