It’s almost summer and the Jersey Shore people left homeless by Hurricane Sandy are on the move again, leaving winter rentals as seasonal rents skyrocket.
“It’s a problem up and down the coast,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project, which helps people bound in the red tape of Sandy recovery. “We’re talking about a lot of people.”
“Because of the range of assistance programs being administered by different governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations, it is difficult to know how many Sandy-impacted residents are still on rental assistance, much less how many are in seasonal rentals,” said Lisa Ryan of the state Department of Community Affairs, the lead agency in the Sandy recovery.
We’re seeing people who have moved four or five times.’ — Susan Marticek, Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group
But this much is known: Of the 10,800 homes in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, only 1,000 are fixed, so at least 9,800 families can’t go home yet.
In New Jersey, most live in Ocean and Monmouth counties, by the beaches and bays. And this figure does not include all of the people not in the program, or those still haggling with insurance companies or chasing down contractors.
Through RREM, Sandy homeowners get $825 a month in rental assistance. That just about gets you a beach badge down the Shore in summer.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Susan Marticek, director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group, which disperses money from various charities, including the Robin Hood Foundation, the Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and the Red Cross.
“For people who live in beach towns, it’s almost impossible for them to find year-round rentals in their towns,” she said. “So they take off-season rentals to keep their kids in school, then have to move in summer. We’re seeing people now who have moved four or five times.”
The Toole family of Manasquan, featured in a column here in March, has done just that. They had to stay in Manasquan because some of their eight children still attend borough public schools. The delay in reconstruction of their destroyed home was a result of repeated low-ball estimates from their insurance company, which the Tooles fought.
Matt and Jen Toole with 7 of their 8 children (l to r) Tate, 7; and Trent, 9; Tanner, 12; Chloe, 15; Claudia, 17; Tyler, 25 and Claire, 21 gather on the lot in Manasquan where their family home stood before it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy more than 2 years ago.Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Certainly, their case will be one of the 144,000 that FEMA has promised to reviewafter reports of collusion between flood insurance carriers and engineering firms doing damage assessment.The Tooles’ winter rental was less than two blocks from the beach; the kind of small bungalow that rents for $25,000 for the summer. The Tooles paid $850 a month over the winter.
“He (the landlord) gave us a break,” said Jen Toole, the mother. “He was great, and I understand he has to make his money over summer.”
The Tooles moved out last week. The family is splitting up to stay with friends and relatives as they wait for construction to begin on their new home.
“We’re getting pretty good at it,” Jen Toole, the mother, said. “But it’s almost like I feel we’ll never get home.”
Robin Buck and his family rebuilt their destroyed home in Long Branch, but then entered the RREM program to have the house elevated. That was last fall.
“We were supposed to be back in 90 days,” he said.
But the state contractor failed to winterize the home properly. Pipes burst and the basement flooded, leaving a mold stew. The elevation work hasn’t even started.
The family is now in a $2,500-a-month rental in Long Branch, less than two blocks from the ocean. In summer, the place can rent for $30,000 a month.
“We have no idea where we’re going,” Buck said earlier this week. “The stress is crazy. I can’t sleep. It’s all I think about.
“We’re trying to find a place,” he said. “Worse comes to worst, we’ll stay in a hotel for a couple of weeks until we find something.”
Rob Buck shows off the damage beneath his Long Branch home he claims was caused by a shoddy RREM contractor. Buck says he repaired all the Sandy damage himself, only to be told by local officials told he still had to raise it.Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The Bucks have had support from the Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group and its director, Eric Nedelkoff, said the problem is “a horrible situation.””We have caseworkers looking way out in western Monmouth County for rentals for people who are still out of their (Shore) homes,” he said.
Hank and Maria DiPasquale also had problems with RREM contractors. The retirees’ year-round home on Long Beach Island got swamped and they repaired it. Then they entered the RREM program to have it elevated and moved out so work could start last fall.
Maria has counted the days since.
“In 167 days, they worked 37 days,” said Maria, who is doing some painting herself to speed up the process. “And some of those days, they came for two hours or just dropped something off. I wish we never applied to get the house raised.”
The DiPasquales are renting around the corner now for $2,000 a month. The price will soon go up to $3,000 a week, so they may move in with Hank’s brother in York, Pa.
“I don’t want to go that far,” Hank said. “I want to keep an eye on what’s going on over at our house.”
Mark Di Ionno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.