Kathleen Bobadilla thought she and her husband, Joe, had done everything right. They had paid their taxes, had paid their flood insurance bill and had invested tens of thousands of dollars into their Ocean City bungalow since buying the second home in the early 1990s.
But when Hurricane Sandy's floodwaters damaged the house beyond repair, Bobadilla, whose primary home is in Holland, Pa., wondered why there was no government aid, such as grants or special loans, for second homeowners.
"Even people who rented (out a house) got more money than we got," she said. "If you could prove you were renting out the house, then you got the money."
Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy roared ashore, generating record flooding in many shore communities, second homeowners are beginning to ask whether they, too, will receive any help.
"Certainly the primary homeowners deserve everything they've gotten," said Ron DiPinto, whose Brigantine vacation house suffered severe damage from Sandy. "But 80 percent of the shoreline is second homes."
Primary homeowners point out that secondary homeowners at least had a place to live after the storm. But secondary homeowners say they pay the same taxes and flood insurance policy premiums, only to receive a lesser flood insurance policy payout than primary homeowners.
Second homeowners make up the majority of the tax base in nearly all barrier island communities between Cape May and Long Beach Island, according to an analysis by The Press of Atlantic City in December 2012. In towns such as Stone Harbor and Avalon, upwards of 85 percent of homeowners do not live on the island.
Sympathy has been thin for second homeowners at the shore struggling to rebuild. Primary homeowners also point out there isn't enough aid money to help them rebuild, so why should second homeowners also be eligible for a slice of that pie?
And the federal government, in its policies, effectively agrees.
The federal government long has held the policy that recovery dollars must go to primary homeowners. FEMA's focus during the initial recovery is to ensure that residents have a safe, secure and clean place to live, said spokesman Darrell Habisch. Congress has dictated that emergency assistance goes to primary homeowners, according to law.
However, some politicians representing shore towns note that seasonal residents form a critical backbone to the shore's seasonal economy.
"Quite honestly, they're the folks who are more likely in the summertime to go out to restaurants or spend more money on the Boardwalk," said Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
And the second homeowners, he said, do not all have the means to rebuild out of pocket.
"It's not all millionaires that have second homes. A lot of people, it's literally their retirement savings put into a second home."
There also are significant differences for how flood insurance policies pay out for second homeowners as well as homeowners who have a second unit in their building, said Michael McMahon, of McMahon Insurance Agency in Ocean City. Primary homeowners receive the full replacement cost for items damaged during a flood. However, secondary homeowners receive the actual cost - which includes the amount of depreciation. That can total up to 20 percent of the claim, McMahon said.
"In the federal government's eyes, if you can afford a secondary home, you can afford to lose the depreciation," he said. "In the grand scheme of things, that can be a big chunk when you're trying to put your house back together."
In Ventnor, where non-local property owners make up roughly 53 percent of the housing stock, mayor Mike Bagnell said he has received no complaints from seasonal residents trying to rebuild. Part of that may be, he said, that the majority of second homes are along the beach block or in the southern portion of the city - areas that did not have flooding.
DiPinto, a real estate agent who lives in Hammonton, said he knows several seasonal homeowners in his Brigantine neighborhood that have walked away from their storm-damaged houses. Other second homeowners may not have begun basic repairs until the summer season began, allowing mold infestations to take hold.
Both DiPinto and Bobadilla have demolished their houses. Rebuilding the existing structure to meet new flood codes not only was much more costly than starting over, the original houses would not have been structurally sound once elevated. Both are paying for repairs out of their retirement accounts.
But trying to deal with flood insurance issues and trying to obtain new loans has been difficult, they said. DiPinto said he can't get a loan because the bank told him he has no collateral. Bobadilla's insurance settlement was a tiny fraction of the actual cost of the damage.
Bobadilla said she even contacted Christie's office for help battling her flood insurance company, which paid out only $13,000 for $160,000 in damage. "They wouldn't get involved because it was a second home," she said.
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