Nearly 3,000 of New Jersey's most flood-prone homes may be
lifted above the water's reach under a program unveiled Monday, the latest of
several rebuilding initiatives rolled out in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The federally funded $100 million program will offer up to $30,000 toward the cost of raising a home along New Jersey's coastline or in flood-prone inland areas where Sandy did less damage, which promises to dramatically change the look and feel of some neighborhoods.
But unlike most other post-Sandy rebuilding efforts, this one is a reimbursement program, meaning participants will have to pay for the work upfront. And the cost can be substantial _ between $30,000 and $75,000, depending on the size of the house, according to state officials.
Gov. Chris Christie, who announced the program in a devastated neighborhood of Brick, said federal guidelines required that the money be distributed as a reimbursement.
"We're doing everything we can to help folks, but we can't do everything," he said. "We're doing the best we can under the rules that were given to us."
Christie said elevating homes would be well worth the cost in the long term, as illustrated by the lack of damage to homes that had been built above the flood plain before Sandy struck in late October. The work also will significantly reduce the cost of flood insurance, he said. Those premiums are expected to rise dramatically in the coming years.
The governor acknowledged the awkward landscape already on view in some Shore neighborhoods, with homes that have been lifted on stilts as high as 8 feet towering over neighboring houses that are still flush with the ground.
"You may think it's going to look unusual now, but once everyone is elevated, it's going to all look the same," he said. "We need to adjust to this now."
Unlike other home-rebuilding programs administered by the state through the $60 billion federal aid package approved by Congress in January, the elevation program is open to people of all income levels, but only single-family homes that serve as primary residences are eligible.
Enrollment opened Monday and will remain open until Sept. 15. The program, which relies on money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is expected to benefit about 2,700 homeowners. Priority will be based on flood risk, as measured by how high a home must be lifted to exceed the so-called 100-year flood plain. A secondary consideration will be how much damage was caused by Sandy, officials said.
The announcement came as the state prepares to send out checks for two other home-rebuilding programs with the first wave of federal money. The centerpiece program, which provides a grant of up to $150,000 to rebuild and elevate homes, was so popular that thousands were placed on a waiting list: More than 12,000 applied, but funding was available for only about 3,500. The federal government could release more money for that program in the fall.
Among those on the waiting list is Patricia Unice, 69, of Brick, who is still out of her home. She and her husband, both retired, had been living with their daughter, also a Brick resident. On Thursday, they moved into a trailer in the front yard of their damaged home. They have flood insurance, Unice said, but it won't pay for damage to the foundation because the foundation was too old and had already needed work.
Frustrated at the prospect of applying for yet another grant and waiting months to hear if she qualified, Unice gave a mixed review of the new initiative Monday, her eyes filled with tears. "It's a little encouraging, but we're still out of our home for months," she said. "Everything is still up in the air."
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Those on the waiting list for the $150,000 grant program will be able to apply for the newest initiative, also, and Unice said she would do so. Recipients are eligible for only one grant program, however, so they would have to choose if they ultimately were accepted into both.
Christie addressed the frustration he's heard from displaced residents like Unice. While the governor invites people back to the Shore in a tourism ad campaign, saying the state is "stronger than the storm," they are still waiting for rebuilding grants more than eight months after Sandy, he acknowledged.
He asked for their patience as the state tries to attract tourism dollars while continuing to rebuild homes, a task that could take two more years.
"So, please, don't think that when I say 'Come back to the Shore' that I think everything is better," he said. "I won't rest until everyone who wants back into their home is back in their home."
(c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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