4/20/15 Nightmares come true: RREM contractor left home to rot Russ Zimmer Asbury Park Press
Ninety days, in and out. That's what Robin Buck was expecting when he signed up in September to have his home elevated through a state-sponsored superstorm Sandy rebuilding program.
That prospect was shattered in March.
Buck, 34, left his family's home in Long Branch to a contractor in the Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program in November. The state-assigned contractor not only failed to lift the home as promised, but also neglected to winterize the property — leading to at least $14,000 in damages, according to one estimate. Buck had already spent $42,000 in 2014 restoring the first floor of his home after Sandy.
For Buck and his family, their situation continues to take an emotional toll. They are unsure where they will live when their current lease expires and do not how they will pay both their mortgage and rent.
Buck said he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" when he was accepted into the RREM program, but that opportunity backfired. Seneca-SmartJack, his RREM contractor, took the keys to his perfectly liveable $189,000 home on Nov. 1. Six months later, the contractor relinquished it with so much new damage that construction officials talked about knocking it down and starting over.
"I thought going through the state with Pathway C (the now-closed option homeowners could select if they did not want to manage their own project) was going to be this great experience. The state would have control of everything, everything was going to be smooth. That's what I thought," he said. "The lack of communication, the not showing up, nothing happening — that's the strangest thing to me."
His house was not the only one that Seneca-SmartJack neglected to winterize, according to the state. It's not immediately clear what, if any, payment was made from RREM to Seneca-SmartJack. Numerous calls to Seneca were not returned. SmartJack declined to comment.
Buck, who was living in the two-story home with his fiancée and their three children, said he was following the instructions of Seneca-SmartJack to the letter when he moved out and had the utilities disconnected.
When the water was shut off, as part of the utility disconnection, water that needed to be drained remained in the pipes. When temperatures dropped, the pipes froze and burst. Then when the broken pipes thawed, the water saturated the first-floor ceiling, ruining the walls and flooring that Buck had just spent thousands of dollars replacing.
That's not all. With the power disconnected, the sump pump was no longer siphoning any rain or ground water that collected in the dirt-floor basement. The result is a pool of stagnant water that Buck says softened the earth and undermined his foundation, causing a noticeable tilting of the southwest corner of his home.
In December, Buck — having not seen the interior of his home in a month and having heard nothing from the contractor — sent an email to his project manager warning that just such a scenario could unfold. The state had distributed a notice in November to Pathway C contractors reminding them that "builders are responsible for all home weatherization and winterizing aspects for their assigned projects."
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which is in charge of distributing most of the federal Sandy aid, says four homeowners, including Buck, "sustained damage as a result of improper winterization," according to department spokeswoman Lisa Ryan.
"Seneca-SmartJack will be contacting the impacted homeowners this week, if they haven't already, to discuss compensation," she said on April 14. "Seneca-SmartJack will provide payment directly to the homeowners to cover these costs."
Seneca-SmartJack, a state-approved contractor within the RREM program, was a temporary business alliance between SCMC, a division of Seneca Holdings which is the investment arm of the Seneca Nation of Indians, and SmartJack, a New Jersey-based home-elevation firm that started after Sandy.
Seneca had been looking to remove itself from the RREM program since at least December, when they told the DCA they intended to withdraw from the program, according to Ryan. SmartJack attempted to remain in the program, but was denied because it failed to meet the DCA's standard for financial wherewithal.
Buy PhotoBuck points to water stains in the ceiling of his kitchen. Rob Buck was told to leave his home and have the utilities disconnected by Nov. 1, 2014 so that the home could be elevated, but the RREM-approved contractor never touched his home, including winterizing it as they were supposed to do. The rebuilt first floor and basement were flooded when pipes froze and burst and now the home might have to be torn down. Long Branch, NJ Wednesday, April 8, 2015 Doug Hood/Staff Photographer @dhoodhood (Photo: Gannett)
Buck said he didn't know Seneca intended to leave the program until March, when he was assigned a new builder.
On April 14, Buck got an estimate — $14,000 to fix the damages caused by the water leaks — from CBI Shaw, which was hired by the state to manage RREM projects on behalf of homeowners. However, Buck doesn't believe they've captured the full extent of the damages.
Within seven days of meeting with the Asbury Park Press, Buck said Seneca pledged to send him a check for that amount.
Charities paid $15,000 for the family to live at a Beachfront North apartment. The funds could have been given to others in need because Buck and his family could have stayed in their home the whole time — instead of turning it over to the contractors, who did nothing.
The Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group, an umbrella organization whose mission is to assist residents through the Sandy recovery, and the Salvation Army paid for the rental so the family could continue making their $2,056 monthly mortgage payment.
"It's not uncommon through the process," said Greg Russo, spokesman for the recovery group. "What we've seen so far is that sometimes things don't go the way they're planned."
The family's lease expires in the middle of May and the apartment has already been promised to a summer rental, meaning they'll have to move. Where they will go — they can't go home, there's not enough room at his dad's house, and they don't have enough money for a rental and the mortgage — is a question without an answer.
Russo said the recovery group, which generally tries to limit rental assistance to people who will be home in under than six months, recognizes the unique circumstances that have left Buck in this position and they are exploring options to extend his rental assistance.
4/15/15 LETTER: Eliminate the income cap on Social Security deductions Richard Palumbo Asbury Park Press
4/15/15 LETTER: Eliminate the income cap on Social Security deductions Richard Palumbo Asbury Park Press
My wife and I are retired, and never anticipated a tragedy like superstorm Sandy. Despite years of saving, and financial planning, if I hadn’t had Social Security after Sandy hit, I have no idea what we would have done. We had to spend a huge portion of our retirement savings and take out a loan to rebuild.
Social Security, one of the most successful programs ever put forth by our government, is in trouble. I am very concerned about recent attacks against Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries — particularly a new rule in Congress that would make it more difficult to extend the solvency of the Disability Insurance program.
While some of our elected officials are referring to Social Security as an entitlement, that is not the truth. Our citizens contribute to this program for most, if not all, of their working lives. We can stabilize Social Security if we scrap the cap of $118,500 and have the wealthy contribute as the rest of our citizens do.
Deductions from payroll into Social Security began in 1937, and until 2009 the amount collected by beneficiaries exceeded the amount paid out. In fact, this excess has allowed the federal government to borrow trillions of dollars from the Social Security Trust Fund, which the government has been repaying with interest.
Over 59 million Americans, 40 percent of whom are veterans, depend on the income only Social Security provides. While meaning no disrespect, our elected officials give enormous amounts of our citizens’ treasure (in lives and wars) all over the world. Do not surrender our Social Security.
Beach Haven West
4/9/15 Christie's job approval rating hits record low in Rutgers poll Claude Brodesser-Akner NJ.com
TRENTON — Fifty-four percent of New Jersey's registered voters disapprove of the job Chris Christie is doing as governor — his highest job disapproval ratings to date, according to a new survey from Rutgers University's Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. Just 41 percent approve of Christie's job performance.
Christie's stances on taxation and the budget also reached new depths in the eyes of voters. Fewer than one-in-three approve of his handling of the economy, and a vast majority think the state is headed in the wrong direction.
And the Republican governor's handling of the state's recovery from Hurricane Sandy has also hit record lows, with just 48 percent approving of his job — a seven point drop since February. That's nearly a 40 point drop since April 2013, when 87 percent of Garden Staters approved of Christie's handling of the recovery effort.
"Often, as the economy improves, voters feel more positive. But in this state there is now widespread feeling that things are on the wrong track," said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. "While the governor continues to explore a national run, voters back home are expressing more and more concern about what's happening in New Jersey and the governor's performance in dealing with these issues."
In March, Christie was dogged by Sandy protestors and displaced families in state and out: Hecklers disrupted his outing at an Iowa agricultural summit in Des Moines, and a Boy Scout pleaded for assistance to move out of a trailer and back into his family's ruined home in Brick Township. Forty-four percent of voters currently disapprove his work on Sandy recovery.
On taxes and the state budget, a vast majority of voters disapprove of his policies. Just 26 percent approve of his taxation stance; 65 disapproved. Only 28 percent approve of his handling of the budget; 61 disapproved.
New Jersey is second to last in job growth for the nation, and the survey's results reflected that grim reality: Only 31 percent approve of Christie's handling of the economy and jobs.
Despite this, the governor's personal unfavorable ratings have rebounded slightly since February, when 53 percent of voters held a negative view of him. In the new poll, Christie is viewed unfavorably by 48 percent.
The 38 percent who view him favorably is essentially unchanged from February, when 37 percent had a favorable view of him.
Sixty percent of voters say the Garden State is on the wrong track, the highest number since just before Christie's first election in October 2009. Thirty percent say New Jersey is going in the right direction — a 10-point drop from December 2014 and half as many as the 61 percent who thought it was in June 2013.
Results were from a statewide poll of 860 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Mar. 27-Apr. 3, including 722 registered voters reported on in this release. The registered voter sample has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
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