Brigantine homeowners David and Karen Gaffney ask questions about RREM as representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency hold meetings at the Brigantine Beach Community Center to help residents still struggling with the fallout from Hurricane Sandy.

Ben Fogletto

BRIGANTINE - It's been more than a year since Hurricane Sandy filled David and Karen Gaffney's bayside home with 18 inches of water, and they are still waiting to see what kind of help they can get from the government to rebuild their lives.

The good news for the Gaffneys is they are not alone. They were among an estimated 350 people who showed up Saturday at the Brigantine Beach Community Center for a Hurricane Sandy relief workshop sponsored by the groups BrigStrong and AC Revive.

Although the Gaffneys are somewhat frustrated by the slow progress in getting funding to build a new house to replace their 1946 bungalow, they are thankful an effort is being made.

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"It's been helpful. It's nice to be here in this environment," Karen Gaffney said.

"We're hopeful because we have no other options," David Gaffney added.

The news Saturday was not necessarily good. The Gaffneys have been renting a house three blocks from their damaged home, and this may have to continue for some time.

"We're happy with the level of communication. but the message today is it's a five-year process and at the end of the process there are no guarantees. In the meantime, we have to rent," David Gaffney said.

Tom Milhous, the vice chairman of BrigStrong, urges homeowners to not give up.

In a town where about one-third of the houses were damaged by the storm, Milhous knows that help is needed. He expects full recovery to take five years and notes that government resources from agencies such as FEMA may not last forever.

"As soon as the next natural disaster comes along, resources will be diverted," Milhous said. "The intent of BrigStrong is to connect the victims to the resources that can help them. We encourage people to act."

The Gaffneys have acted, but getting the money has been slow. Their home suffered damage of more than 50 percent and would take $100,000 to fix, which does not include the cost of raising it. They say it makes more sense to rebuild rather than use the $60,000 in FEMA money to, as David Gaffney said, "put a Band-Aid on the old house."

They are applying for a $150,000 grant from the RREM (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) fund administered by the state Department of Community Affairs. They are also eligible for $30,000 from their flood insurance policy to demolish their old home and construct a new foundation.

"We won't be able to rebuild without a grant," David Gaffney said.

Milhous said progress is being made. There have been 118 RREM grants issued here. So far in 2013, there have been 1,544 building permits issued, up from 800 last year. Milhous said 2,283 insurance claims have been paid, with about 1,000 of them for homes "substantially damaged," which means damage of more than 50 percent of the structure. There have also been 48 elevation permits issued this year.

"Almost one-third of our housing stock was impacted in some way," Mayor Phil Guenther said. "We're starting to see some funds released now and a number of homes being elevated."

The progress is too slow for 73-year-old Helen Capelli-Brehm, who has lived here since 1968 and said Sandy, which flooded her Lafayette Boulevard home, was the worst storm she lived through. Capelli-Brehm said she has been renting an efficiency in Margate since the storm and was denied rental assistance while her home is being raised and reconstructed. She said she has already spent the $75,000 she got from the insurance company and $15,000 in grant money to raise her home. She still has no kitchen, bathrooms or flooring in the home.

"It's been a year now. I was told it would help the people who need help and it would be streamlined with no red tape," Capelli-Brehm said. "I feel the monies allocated for these programs are being spent on administrative costs. All these requirements and paperwork are very stressful and mind-boggling."

Saturday was the fourth workshop here sponsored by BrigStrong, the city's long-term recovery group. As frustrated as some residents are, few shore towns have been this proactive in helping those impacted by the storm. Besides linking residents with government programs, they also supply information on other assistance such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and various church charities.

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