The long-term recovery group Atlantic County Revive is urging Ventnor and Margate homeowners who are still living in unsanitary, flood-damaged houses to seek its help immediately.
Henry Wise, chairman of Atlantic County Revive, said the group still has substantial funding, materials and manpower to help these people, who he knows are still out there, but assistance won't be available forever.
Atlantic County Revive has about $75,000 earmarked for Ventnor and Margate respectively, and an additional $150,000 for the rest of county, funded through private grants from the Robin Hood Foundation for Hurricane Sandy relief.
The problem is that many of the people who need it won't ask for or accept the help, Wise said.
In many cases, these are seniors or families with young children who fear their property or their children will be taken away from them or they won't have anywhere to live while the work is being done on their home, Wise said. In other situations, there is a language barrier or people fear they will be scammed.
Wise said none of those is the case.
"We just want to make sure they are living in a safe environment," he said. "We don't know how people are living in those conditions, nor should be living in those conditions."
Once a homeowner requests assistance, he or she will go through an intake process and be asked to provide documentation of any assistance they may have already received as well as what still needs done. It takes about eight weeks for a home to be restored, from the gutting phase to the residents' return, Wise said.
During that time, Atlantic County Revive will also work to provide them with temporary housing nearby. The group is currently ironing out the logistics of a new program that would allow it to restore second-homeowners' houses, which usually is prohibited, in exchange for the use of their house afterward as temporary placement for year-round residents while work is being done on their houses.
"The deal is we'll redo (a second-homeowner's) house and they still pay the taxes, but they give us the house for 18 months after we finish the work," Wise said. "It takes eight weeks to do a house, so every eight weeks we can rotate out a family and get another one in."
An attorney is currently evaluating this option, Wise said. He already has at least one second-homeowner interested.
Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said he is asking any resident in his city who knows of a neighbor living in a flood-damaged home to encourage them to speak up.
"If it comes from someone they trust, as opposed to a stranger, they might be more willing to listen," Bagnell said. "They can't be living in those conditions, specifically for the health reasons. We have to at least make these houses are sanitary."
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To learn more
For details, call the the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, which will direct calls to Atlantic County Long-Term Recovery Group officials, at 609-404-4483.