Six Years Later, Sandy Victims Want to Finally ‘Cross the Finish Line’
Of the nearly 8,000 New Jersey families that qualified for federal funds to help rebuild, rehabilitate or elevate their homes after Superstorm Sandy, 19 percent still haven't finished their projects or received the green light to move back in.
"It's pretty distressing," said Atlantic City resident Sharon Zippia, who travels daily from her rental home to her actual home that was flooded by 28 inches of water and sewage in late October, 2012.
Zippia received $150,000 from the state's Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program, but the actual cost of getting her home back into livable shape is more than double that.
"I now stand about $50,000 short of completing the project," Zippia said. "I see the home possibly going back into foreclosure."
Zippia said she's one of three homes on her block that are "incomplete."
These folks, and many others, are looking for what they're calling "cross the finish line" funds to help them finally put Sandy in the rear-view mirror. And they think a good chunk of this financial help can come from about $1.2 billion in Sandy recovery funding the state still has on hand.
"If six years later we know people are struggling, I'm sure we can take a look at $1.2 billion and find out where to set aside, say, 20 or 30 million more to help families — that seems so doable," said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, director of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots organization formed four years ago by Sandy survivors.
Devecka-Rinear said some New Jersey residents affected by Sandy have not even started the tear-down and repair process on their home. Others are dealing with a variety of obstacles, such as contractor fraud or "clawbacks" by the federal government to recoup some of the grant money it had distributed.
And next summer, Devecka-Rinear said, even more families will feel lost. That's when a mortgage forbearance program, which suspended payments for Sandy victims, is scheduled to end.
"Many families that we work with are telling us that they're going to need more time," she said.