Applications have been slow and with a Sept. 15 deadline looming, Cape May County officials are heavily promoting a program that offers residents a $30,000 grant to raise their homes.
The program has $100 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is specifically for the nine New Jersey counties that suffered the worst damage in Hurricane Sandy. The money is an outright grant for primary residences, and there are no income requirements to get it. It does not apply to second homes.
Municipal officials recently had a conference call with representatives from FEMA and the state Department of Community Affairs, which is administering the funds, and were told to quickly get the word out about the program. Public meetings to explain the program have been set up for Lower Township, Avalon and Ocean City in the coming days.
“They said there have only been 176 applications from Cape May County,” Lower Township Manager Michael Voll said. “We were all under the impression it had to be storm-related, but they took out that caveat that it had to be Sandy-related, and now we’re all scurrying to get the word out.”
Lower Township suffered minimal damage from Sandy, but Voll said there are plenty of homes built in low-lying areas that could be raised so they don’t flood if a future storm strikes. The township is hand-delivering information about the FEMA program to homeowners in low-lying areas, has done what Voll described as “a robo-call” to all residents, and has set up a public meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 just to explain the program.
Middle Township Mayor Dan Lockwood also put out a news release promoting the program and urging residents to attend the meeting in Lower Township. Lockwood said the grants will reduce future flood damage and reduce flood insurance premiums that are scheduled to start increasing under a new federal law that is reducing subsidies.
“We want to make sure that Middle Township residents know about this grant program and take this opportunity to elevate their homes to mitigate potential flooding from future storms. The state would like to see more participation from Cape May County homeowners,” Lockwood said.
Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney is also urging his residents to attend the meeting in Lower Township. Mahaney said an office has also been opened in North Cape May at 3860 Bayshore Road to process applications.
Mahaney said eligible homes must be in the 100-year floodplain, owned and occupied by the current owner when Sandy hit, and single-family homes. Mahaney said first priority is for homes damaged by Sandy, that are below base flood elevation and near the water. Mahaney, however, said as of Aug. 22, only about one third of the money earmarked for Cape May County had been spent.
The county’s slow response is due in part to having a large concentration of second homes and also being one of the last counties to get the new FEMA maps showing flood-prone areas. Voll said the county’s maps were released Aug. 27 and they actually relaxed the requirements for many neighborhoods. He said the new maps took 220 township homes out of the worst flood zone and only put one home into the zone. In Cape May, Mahaney said, the new maps took 53 properties out of the high-hazard V-zone and only put one in it.
Other towns also are promoting the program. Stone Harbor’s emergency management website has a page on it. The Stone Harbor website says first priority will be homes that need to be raised more than eight feet to get above base flood elevation. The second group will be homes that need to be raised five to eight feet. The final group is those that need to go up less than five feet.
The goal is to get homes above the base flood elevations outlined in the new FEMA maps. Residents can check the maps at: www.region2coastal.com
Lower Township Mayor Mike Beck said homeowners with residences below base flood elevations face much higher flood insurance costs if they do not raise their homes.
“This helps some residents by giving them money to help raise their house and therefore see significantly less costly flood insurance,” Beck said.
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Public meetings are set up for northern, southern and central Cape May County residents. They are scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at Lower Township Hall, 2600 Bayshore Road, Villas; 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Ocean City Free Public Library, 1735 Simpson Ave., Ocean City; and 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at Avalon Community Hall, 3001 Avalon Ave., Avalon. Applications for the grants are accepted online at www.renewjerseystronger.org or by phone at 855SANDYHM. FEMA flood maps can be seen at www.region2coastal.com