Poverty-stricken and lower-income neighborhoods, including those in Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic City, were among those most damaged by Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, a draft of a federal report shows.
Atlantic City has the highest number of damaged housing units of any municipality statewide, even though floodwaters in Atlantic County were not nearly as high as in Ocean and Monmouth counties.
The unedited report, titled Analysis of Communities Impacted by Hurricane Sandy, looks at Federal Emergency Management Agency claims filed in New York and New Jersey following the storm. The report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also provides data for municipalities in the process of filing the first large applications for federal aid to pay for rebuilding houses and fortifying flood-control measures.
HUD officials did not respond to requests for comment.
More than 5,000 housing units in Atlantic City were damaged, or 11 percent of the total number of damaged units statewide, the report shows. A third of the housing units in Ventnor were damaged, as were a quarter of the units in both Margate and Brigantine.
Toms River had the second-highest number of damaged housing units, at 4,233, and Ocean County had the most severe damage overall. Toms River ranked first for the number of housing units that suffered major damage, at nearly 3,100 houses — 11 percent of homes in the township — with damage worth at least 50 percent of the value of the house.
Mantoloking, Lavallette and Seaside Heights had the highest percentages of damaged housing stock in the state, at 78 percent, 76 percent and 74 percent, respectively, with nearly all of that damage worth more than 50 percent of the pre-storm value of the building. However, many of the houses damaged were not primary residences, the report states.
These figures will help municipalities make the case for why their grant requests for raising houses or flood-control projects should be among those selected in what could be a limited and competitive pool for the first hazard mitigation grants. However, the process is not going to be short, warned Ed Conover, deputy coordinator of the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management.
“We’re not going to see checks in the mail in the next two months,” Conover said. “This is going to take some time because of the magnitude.”
Counties statewide have until March 22 to apply for about $410 million in hazard mitigation grants that are funded by the first round of federal aid money, Conover said. Municipalities have had their own deadlines to collect letters from interested homeowners. Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor Township residents have until March 15 to apply. In Atlantic County, where applications from towns were due Friday, 17 municipalities and five school districts and nonprofits submitted projects totaling nearly $400 million.
“A lot are not going to be funded or partially funded, but we’re working on grants to get as many as we can,” he said.
Atlantic City will apply for grants worth about $100 million to cover things such as raising 200 houses, bulkhead improvements along much of the vulnerable back bay areas, raising traffic signal control boxes and raising the small portion of Albany Avenue between Winchester and Atlantic avenues that the city controls, said Jim Rutala, a paid consultant who is representing multiple towns in the application process.
Robert Oliver, 74, of Atlantic City, is one of the residents hoping his house can be considered for one of the grants. Oliver lives on Riverside Drive and had about 1 foot of water in his ranch-style house during the storm. While insurance has paid for repairs, Oliver expects he will have to raise his house to meet new flood map standards, and he’s looking for grant assistance.
“At my age, I don’t take long-term loans,” he said.
Tuckerton borough Administrator Jenny Gleghorn said about 200 residents want to be considered for grants to raise their houses. She added that if there was a way to prioritize the lower-income property owners, she would do that. A quarter of about 1,600 housing units in Tuckerton were damaged, with more than half suffering damage exceeding 50 percent of the value of the structure, the HUD report shows.
“With them not getting any money, how can they even start to rebuild? They get frustrated and they start walking away,” Gleghorn said of homeowners who either had no flood insurance or were having a difficult time receiving settlements.
Brigantine has filed for a grant to raise 1,000 homes and has received letters from about 725 homeowners who want to take part in the program, Rutala said. Pleasantville has 22 homeowners near Lakes Bay interested in grant money to buy out their flood-prone properties.
The state and Gov. Chris Christie have noted that buyouts are on the table in New Jersey but that the effort must be initiated by individual towns, and those towns must have more than just a few isolated houses. Rutala said Pleasantville’s effort may be among those that fit the requirements in the state.
“The houses are very concentrated, and it’s an area the city has deemed for redevelopment in the past,” Rutala said.
Hazard mitigation grants pay 75 percent of the cost of the work, so part of the application process has been figuring out who will pay the remaining 25 percent. Rutala said that in the case of raising houses, the rest of the money likely will be paid by the homeowner.
Counties and towns were asked to prioritize their projects. While raising houses will be a major aspect of Atlantic County’s submissions, flood- and stormwater-control projects also will be key, Conover said. In Atlantic City, many houses that suffered damage will be difficult to raise because they are brick rowhomes in low-income neighborhoods, Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, has said.
Projects are supposed to either be for raising or buying out homes, power generators for critical infrastructure or flood controls. Conover said he has been told applications won’t be sent to the federal government until early fall, but homeowners who have been selected for grants should be informed before then.
“We’re looking at it from the perspective that if we can minimize the water on the island, we can cut down from the impact of the flooding,” Conover said. “It’s more cost-effective to put up a more significant bulkheading system than raise the 1,000 homes behind it.”
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