Housing Q&A: Got flood damage? Here’s how renters and homeowners in NJ can recover

opens in a new windowHousing Q&A: Got flood damage? Here’s how renters and homeowners in NJ can recover / APP.com / 11/19/2021

By opens in a new windowAshley Balcerza, NorthJersey.com

With the threat of more storms due to climate change, leaders say more funding needs to go into figuring out how to prevent damage in the first place federal flood assistance, relief and insurance opens in a new window opens in a new window

Picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a destructive natural disaster like Tropical Storm Ida can be overwhelming and confusing. Sorting through applications to receive government help and nonprofit assistance — not to mention filing insurance claims — is a lot on its own, let alone when a family lost important paperwork or possessions needed to complete the processes. 

As part of its monthly housing video series, NorthJersey.com and the USA Today Network New Jersey hosted a panel of three experts to guide New Jerseyans through where they can receive aid, how to estimate flood risk before buying or renting a home, and where to go for help if they hit roadblocks in the recovery process.

One notable deadline for Ida aid is approaching:  opens in a new windowThe Federal Emergency Management Agency extended its application cutoff for individual assistance to Dec. 6, 2021 for flood survivors living in 12 New Jersey counties: Bergen, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Union and Warren.

FEMA’s program is meant to provide short-term help and cannot duplicate benefits a family receives through insurance. Grants average between $5,000 to $8,000, according to Nikki Gaskins Campbell, a FEMA media relations specialist. 

“Obviously if your home is destroyed, that’s not going to rebuild your home,” Gaskins Campbell said. “For the long term, we’ll turn you over to other agencies to help with this.”

The agency has passed out nearly $178 million to more than 35,000 homeowners and renters in New Jersey since Tropical Storm Ida to help pay for home repairs, rental assistance for temporary housing, replacing lost or damaged property, moving and storage fees, or medical expenses. 

Apply online at  opens in a new windowDisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

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For in-person assistance, FEMA disaster recovery centers remain open at

  • Essex County: Kmart (Co-located with a Vaccination Center) 235 Prospect Ave. #9413, West Orange 07052
  • Union County: O’Donnell Dempsey Senior Community Center, 618 Salem Ave., Elizabeth 07208.
  • Somerset County: North End Volunteer Fire Company #3, 169 N. 8th Ave., Manville 08835 (Closes permanently on Nov. 20)

Applicants should expect to hear back from FEMA within 2 weeks; if not, call FEMA’s hotline, Gaskins Campbell said. 

If you didn’t receive an award, or don’t think you received as much as you should have, applicants have 60 days to appeal the determination. 

“Just because you get this determination letter and it’s not what you’re happy with, that is not the end-all be-all,” Gaskins Campbell said. “We want people to read the letter carefully. Sometimes we need more information to better process your application and then that could completely change the game. We may see that, ‘Oh, you forgot to tell us about this kind of damage.’ Sometimes what slows up the process is people don’t include their insurance information.”

Even if you don’t think you will be eligible for help, it’s in New Jersey’s interest for you to apply, said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, executive director for the New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots group formed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. 

The more people who apply, the “more of an argument can be made” for additional federal grant programs that could be offered in the future, Devecka-Rinear said. 

Flood survivors should also look into low-interest disaster loans offered to homeowners and renters under the Small Business Administration to cover repair, rebuilding or replacement costs. Apply online at  opens in a new windowDisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov or by calling 800-659-2955. 

Low-income families who don’t already receive food stamps may also be eligible for a special disaster food benefit program called D-SNAP by  opens in a new windowcontacting their county board of social services. 

The Legal Services of New Jersey is offering assistance filling out applications as well as legal assistance for those who qualify. Visit  opens in a new windowlsnjlaw.org or call 1-888-576-5529. 

“Every tenant does have rights, it’s not exactly black and white for everybody, but they should call our office to seek assistance or apply online,” said Maryann Flanigan, vice president with Legal Services of New Jersey.

For instance, renters who are displaced are not required to pay rent while landlords make repairs, and unless a tenant turns over her keys and knowingly signs papers breaking her lease, or is evicted through the court system, she is still entitled to move back in to the apartment once it is fixed, according to the Department of Community Affairs. 

And for renters and homeowners looking for a new place to live, they can examine FEMA flood risk maps at  opens in a new windowmsc.fema.gov/portal, or a complementary tool from the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation at  opens in a new windowfloodfactor.com

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Buying an NJ home in a flood zone? opens in a new window Your flood insurance rates are about to climb

We want to hear from you

What questions do you have as a renter, homeowner or landlord? What help do you need from the government that you aren’t getting? What part of moratoriums, mortgages, relief money or evictions do you wish you better understood? 

Email Ashley Balcerzak at balcerzaka@northjersey.com to send your questions and we’ll try to answer as many as we can during monthly housing panels hosted on NorthJersey.com and the USA Today Network New Jersey.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/papp/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html

Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter covering affordable housing and its intersection of how we live in New Jersey. For unlimited access to her work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email:  opens in a new windowbalcerzaka@northjersey.com 

Twitter:  opens in a new window@abalcerzak 

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