September 1st, 2021 was the first day of school for my kids. We were still unpacking in our new home, and I took a photo of my kids smiling in front of the door that morning. Little did I know that just a few hours later we would have to be rescued by the fire department from the street in front of our house.
There was over 6 feet of water in total, over 5 in the basement and around a foot through the ground floor, leaving behind a muddy mess and ruined furniture, wrecking our kitchen, electric and heating, and ruining precious photos and memories we’d only just put together of my kids friends from their old school. Nothing like this had happened in our town before.
Everything had to be ripped out. I had flood insurance, but where were they? It took weeks before I could even have the assurance that anything would be paid for in terms of clean up. The first offer from my insurance company was less than a third of what I needed to rebuild. It was months before they sent out a structural engineer to verify the damage around the foundation and the front porch, the latter of which they told me I wasn’t covered for. They initially offered me 3k for a new garage door when the whole frame of the building was leaning over. They eventually accepted that 10 times that much will be needed to fix the garage, but since outbuildings were only covered up to a certain point, I was on my own for the rest.
In the meantime, the fire department pumped the water out and families from the church we’d slept in carried mud out of my basement in buckets. We moved into my parents house, and I consider us very fortunate that we could do so. I worked from home and sat in what my kids started to call the “flood house” as much as I could, while the essentials were put back in place. We’re now able to live in the house, but not safely.
Because I am still waiting for insurance to release some of the funds I am covered for, it delayed me with FEMA and SBA. I eventually did get an SBA loan to help with some of the repairs to the garage and the kitchen that insurance wouldn’t cover.
Finally, I found out about HARP, and I thought I would finally have a chance to finish the repairs and get some advice and support on the damage that was done around my home’s foundation and what was the best thing to do for my home for flood mitigation. Unfortunately after hearing no updates for 4 months, I sent an email to ask whether there had been any progress and was told that I am not eligible for federal funding because my home is in a “floodway”. This is completely new information to me, and the only advice DCA gave me was to apply for Blue Acres. Except I’ve already received federal funding in the form of the SBA loan, which I’ve spent on this house along with thousands of dollars of my own and on credit cards to get the house back into a decent and safe condition.
I have made the application to Blue Acres, although I don’t want to leave my home or my community. This house has been here since the late 1800’s and at no point in the past 2 years has anyone mentioned anything to me about not being eligible because of its location.
I’ve been fighting with NJOP to try to get flood survivors other relief like mortgage forbearance. This would still make a huge difference to me because my mortgage is a huge part of my monthly costs, and now that I will be in limbo waiting for Blue Acres I am just putting more and more money into an asset I may not get to keep or receive the true value for after all that’s gone into it between the loan, credit cards, and my own money.
It does not make sense that lack of funds is being blamed for this u-turn on HARP funding, we know New Jersey had a budget surplus last year. This shows that they are not putting the money where it needs to go. Decisions on whether homes or communities are no longer livable or insurable should be made on evidence, not lack of funds.
The lack of a disaster recovery system has left me feeling this entire time like I must be doing something wrong. However, in hearing countless stories very similar to mine, it’s clear that we need a real coordinated program of emergency and mitigation funding. It’s the broken system that is failing us.