A South Jersey builder will be one of a select group of contractors eligible to help about 3,500 New Jersey homeowners eligible for federal funding to rebuild properties damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
The Price Home Group, of Stafford Township, is one of 47 contractors approved to build, elevate or renovate properties under the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, program, co-owner Jonathan Price said.
Under the RREM program, $600 million in federal funding has been slated for primary homeowners to help them return to their storm-ravaged properties faster, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, which is helping homeowners through the process.
The process to get to this point has been laborious — the application for builders was 78 pages long and, of the approximately 700 builders statewide, only 66 completed applications.
“All the companies were thoroughly vetted through this process,” said DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan.
“There were background checks, they went through our insurance claim history and checked to see if there were any workman’s comp issues, they checked our company’s credit and our personal credit history,” Price said.
Price Home Group will be rebuilding in Ocean, Atlantic and Monmouth counties, Price said.
Now that they have been chosen, it is a waiting game for work to begin. Price said people are not getting enough information about the RREM program.
“There’s not a lot of information out there. ... We were told that we could be assigned properties this week to start work,” he said.
Homeowners awarded a RREM grant started to sign grant agreement documents this week, Ryan said. The DCA received Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding in May, and within weeks, the agency began accepting applications for two of their major housing assistance programs — the Homeowner Resettlement Program and the RREM program, Ryan said.
The DCA has assigned housing advisers to more than 3,500 homeowners who have received a RREM award notification letter, she said.
The housing advisers assist homeowners with documentation, multiple on-site home inspections, architectural plans, builder selection, and local zoning and construction approvals, Ryan said.
The DCA received more than 15,100 applications for the RREM program, and more than 3,500 homeowners were preliminarily awarded a RREM grant. She said more than 2,800 homeowners were deemed ineligible for the program because they did not meet program requirements. Additionally, about 7,700 homeowners were deemed eligible for a grant but placed on a wait list because there is not enough federal funding.
Little Egg Harbor Township attorney Richard Kitrick is working with area homeowners who are trying to rebuild after the storm, and from what he said he and his clients have experienced, he is very critical of the RREM program. The program has no direction for those who have applied and professionals assisting them through the process, he said.
“As an attorney, I can’t go on the Internet and get answers for people, and when I call and talk to two people, I get two different answers. It really seems that they’re changing the rules as they go along,” Kitrick said.
RREM and other state recovery programs came under fire last month by the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center, which filed an Open Public Records Act request July 31 for information about the processing of applications, the demographics, the appeals process and the totals and locations of those who received funding or have been denied.
On Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie told The Press of Atlantic City’s editorial board that most of the data requested was released to the Fair Share Housing Center a week and a half ago.
He added that design work is going on in the RREM program.
“People have 32 different designs of homes to pick from,” he said. “They sit down with contractors and pick the specific things they want. All that work is being done, and that work has to be done before they start rebuilding."
Adam Gordan, a staff attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center, wrote in an email Thursday afternoon that what the state “released was a partial subset of what we requested, which is not sufficient to either understand the process or analyze who has gotten the grants and who has not.”
Gordon said the center is preparing a comprehensive list of the documents that were requested that have not been provided and will be providing it to the state shortly. He added that the lawsuit stands.
Officials estimate more than 5,000 homes collectively in Little Egg Harbor and Tuckerton sustained substantial storm damage during Sandy. Of those homes, the state received 715 RREM applications, and just 283 have so far been awarded, according to information from the DCA.
But each homeowner receiving a RREM grant faces a unique set of circumstances, Ryan said.
Some are seeking reimbursements for repair work that has already been completed, while others are seeking a complete rebuild of their home, Ryan said.
Work is underway to renovate and lift Kim and Evette Heinle’s home on Dolphin Road in Tuckerton’s Tuckerton Beach section. But the couple is still waiting for funding from their application to the RREM program. Inside the home, which is jacked up and prepared to be lifted, the floors and walls are ripped out, and as the Heinles looked around they spoke of just wanting to come home.
Kim Heinle said the home was only flooded with about 5 inches of water, and the couple refused to demolish and rebuild. Instead, they chose to use the potential RREM money for a renovation and elevation.
As they stood on their street that was pummeled during Sandy, the Heinles said they are fortunate to be moving head, albeit slowly, because there are so many people who are not.
As part of the RREM process, the DCA sent a contractor to the couple’s home who spent five hours performing a detailed damage estimate, Heinle said.
“I guess right now it’s almost like we’re married right now to the DCA, and the relationship is not going very well. We’re trying to make it work, but it’s like any bad relationship,” Heinle said.
Staff Writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.
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