9/26/15 Sandy victims need help to get banks off their backs, Mark DiIonno, Star Ledger
Debra and Steve Corrado's home in the Silverton section of Toms River, is stranded high its foundation, unlivable.
They're waiting for their third state-assigned contractor from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program to finish it. Just four days ago – one month shy of the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy destroying their home – they signed an amended RREM grant to get the job done.
They're in their third rental.
It gets worse. They're in foreclosure.
"After all the money we spent trying to get back in our house, now we have to hire a lawyer to try to keep it," Debra Corrado said.
This is not a hand-out," Assemblyman Gary Schaer.The abridged version of their story goes like this:
Their house was wrecked by the hurricane and they accepted what they say was low-ball settlement from their insurance company.
"We didn't want to waste time fighting," she said. "We wanted to get back home."
They followed Gov. Chris Christie's advice to "rebuild now," and renovated by using their saving and emptying their 401Ks.
But when the new (final) FEMA flood maps came out, they had to elevate the house, so they entered the RREM program in June 2014. The 90-day job is now on day 400-something, as they continued paying mortgage ($2,800 a month) and rent ($1,500).
"Part of the house was on a slab, and they actually cut it in half with a saw," Corrado said.
They couple got behind on the mortgage and the bank began foreclosing. The nightmare continues. Nearly three years and counting.
This is not an isolated case.
"One-third of the people impacted by the storm have not had their problems remediated," said state Assemblyman Gary Schaer, a Democrat whose districtincludes Moonachie and Little Ferry, two towns hit hard by Sandy. "Not 5 percent ... not 10 percent ... 33 percent. It is unconscionable that three years after the storm, we still have thousands of people out of their homes."
And many of those people, like the Corrados, now face foreclosure.
Schaer and fellow Democrat Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who represents Atlantic Cape and Cumberland Counties, have introduced bills in their respective houses to get the banks to back off.
Assembly bill A4139 and Senate bill S2577 have passed committee and Schaer said he hopes each will be voted on by the end of the year.
The identical bills ask that banks halt foreclosure on homes in the state RREM program and the LMI (low- and moderate-income) rebuilding program until 60 days after they are reoccupied.
The fact that the legislators come from opposite ends of state illustrates the swath of Sandy's destruction and its continued misery.
"This storm did not discriminate geographically," Schaer said.
"But many of the people – not all, but many – who remain out of their homes were the most economically vulnerable," Schaer said. "They are single mothers, the elderly, and families struggling to make ends meet before the storm. No one seemed to be speaking for them. These are people who have yet to receive the relief that was promised them."
The bills seek to freeze all foreclosure proceedings on properties wrecked by Sandy, as long has the property wasn't in foreclosure prior to storm. The mortgages would resume within 60 days of the owners returning home.
The bills also would protect homeowners from foreclosure in future disasters, an important feature for people who live in flood areas along the Raritan and Passaic River basins, as well as the coast.
"This is not a handout," Schaer said. "We wanted to craft a bill to answer the short-term needs for people who are behind on their mortgages through no fault of their own.
"We want to give people 36 months – that seems to be the time it takes – to recover from a disaster without the threat of foreclosure."
Almost all the people in this situation are there because of the hallmark factors of this slow recovery. Insurance fraud. Contractor malfeasance. Bureaucratic entanglement.
"The state blames the feds, the feds blame the state," Schaer said. "Let's stop playing the blame game and come up with solutions."
That's a welcomed message for Nancy Wirtz, whose small house in the Forked River Beach section of Lacey Township was flooded and severely damaged when two trees fell on it during Sandy.
A contractor charged her $55,000 to demolish the house and then disappeared. Wirtz now has no house, no money and the bank bearing down on her.
"I'm lost," she told the Assembly's Housing and Community Development Committee during a hearing on the bill in June. "I don't know what to do."
Amada Devecka-Rinear, who formed a group to lobby for Sandy victims, said the bills is "welcomed" and "good" but doesn't go far enough.
"I think this bill was chipped away at by the banking lobby," said Devecka-Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. "It originally included all Sandy victims. Now, it's just those in RREM and LMI (who must be primary homeowners to qualify for those programs).
"But what about second homeowners and people who own rental properties?" she said. "They've had to deal with some of the same issues, like low insurance payouts or bad contractors.
"I think the bill is good and needed," she said. "But we're going to push back and see if we can get it expanded. These people have suffered enough. The banks should give them a break."
9/1/2015 New Jersey Organizing Project's Sandy Survivors Travel to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary
9/1/2015 New Jerey Organizing Project's Sandy Survivors Travel to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary, Jon Coen, The SandPaper
Last weekend marked the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Cat 5 hurricane that forever changed the Gulf Coast. Many locals recall watching the storm and the aftermath unfold on the national stage, mostly telling ourselves, it could never happen here. Then in October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit, thankfully with less loss of life, but bringing similar challenges in rebuilding.
Members of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a nonprofit formed in 2014 by activist Amanda Devecka-Rinear of Cedar Bonnet Island to tell elected officials to “Finish the Job” of rebuilding, traveled to New Orleans recently on a trip organized by the Sierra Club for three days. Julie Suarez of Mystic Island, Sandi Mackay, Joe Mangino, Sophia Mangino and Joe Karcz, all of Beach Haven West, as well as Krista Sperber of Belmar went to show solidarity with the victims of Katrina.
“There are so many similarities with us. The tourist areas are up and running, which is great, but there are communities and families who are still struggling,” said Joe Mangino of Beach Haven West.
Mangino famously organized gutting and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Sandy, working with Waves for Water and Jetty, and cofounding START. After being flooded, he and his family have battled with the RREM program and its contractors since they moved out to have their home raised last November. He made national news when he followed Chris Christie’s presidential campaign to Iowa and told him to go back to New Jersey and “finish the job,” and the NJOP has played a part in getting several key pieces of legislation passed since. After volunteering with NJOP for the last 10 months, Mangino was given a paid position this summer. The Jetty Rock Foundation donated the money to pay for Mangino and his daughter, Sophia, 14, to travel to New Orleans.
“A politician down there said they are done with rebuilding and are now about creating. But there are still hundreds of homes with the big ‘X’ and the number of dead painted on the outside wall,” Mangino noted.
The NJOP members in the “Big Easy” took part in a Story Circle, walked the Katrina March and were invited to a service. They shared notes on resilience and made contacts.
“We were at this Baptist church way out on the bayou to support these victims and they flipped it around. They were supporting us, telling us that we would recover and how everything would be all right.”
Mangino noted that developers had plans to simply wipe out entire neighborhoods when families were displaced, and the residents had to work just to keep their communities. He took note of the impact the storm had on the areas of less wealth, those who live in disaster-prone areas and have the least resources to rebuild. There were discussions on climate change bringing about stronger and more frequent storms, and how the poor will be most affected.
“There was a common theme that they kept repeating that we always have to repeat here, and that’s ‘Fight for It,’ whether that’s to save a community or get insurance money that you’re owed. You always have to fight for it.”
The group also raved about the music and food. After all, it was, and is, New Orleans.
-- Jon Coen email@example.com
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