STAFFORD – For Joe Karcz standing on the porch of his yet to be completed home in Beach Haven West, the recently- enacted mortgage forbearance act came just in time.
Karcz’s original single story home had taken more than three feet of water during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and needed to be demolished so that he could begin rebuilding.
While his home was gone, his mortgage wasn’t. Until recently he was struggling to keep up with the $1,400 a month payments, while two different contractors failed to complete the work, said Karcz, a union steamfitter who is currently on disability.
He said he has had to move more than a dozen times and is still not close to getting a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) for his home.
“They built the Empire State Building in a year and 45 days, but I can’t get a 1,500 sq. ft. home finished in three and a half years,” said Karcz.
Under the new bill, he can now apply to the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for protection from foreclosure until at least 2019.
Karcz qualifies to apply for the forbearance since he was awarded a grant from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program (RREM). The program administered by the DCA, was set up to provide homeowners with a portion of the more than $1.5B in federal aid New Jersey received shortly after Sandy to repair or rebuild their primary residences.
If granted the forbearance, he and others who qualify will have additional months added to the life of their current mortgage and will not incur any additional fees and face no penalty for early repayment should they be able to do so.
Governor Chris Christie reluctantly signed the bill last week after vetoing a similar measure last year.
“While he (Christie) was running around the country trying to be President, so many people lost their homes to the banks and mortgage companies,”Karcz said.
Despite being one of the first to register for the RREM grants, he did not receive the funding to demolish his house until January of 2015.
The demo work and subsequent construction was to be done by a registered and approved RREM contractor, Karcz said.
“I failed seven inspections for everything from electrical to plumbing work done by him and sub-contractors,” he added.
Karcz, who has been on disability since before Sandy, and should have had two knee replacement years ago, now has a four inch step up from his living room to his kitchen.
He showed where the contractor built his rear deck too high and installed a sliding door. Then raised the kitchen floor to match the deck and door elevation.
Shortly after, he fired the contractor, who had already cost him all of the REMM funds he received and refused to continue work unless he received more.
Karcz reported him to the DCA, but would not elaborate on what other steps he has or may take.
He said he then took and early draw of $70,000 from his pension to hire a second contractor last July who promised to finish the house in six to eight weeks.
“The withdrawal cost me cost me $20,000 in taxes in penalties before I even could put a dollar into the work,” he said.
Shortly after taking a $9,500 advance on the work, the second contractor just “disappeared,” said Karcz.
“I sent him a registered and certified letter saying I needed to hear from him or I was taking legal action against him,” he said.
He then found out the letter was never picked up.
In addition, the contractor left many of his tools, including power saws and workbenches out in Karcz rear sunroom.
Karcz said that the forbearance will give him a chance to catch his breath and there may even be a light at the end of the tunnel.
He has been an active member of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) founded by local residents Amanda Devecka-Reiner and Joe Mangino, which has been dedicated to aiding the victims of Hurricane Sandy in their ongoing struggles.
NJOP was one of the main lobbying forces behind getting the mortgage relief bill finally signed into law.
Devecka-Reiner recently put him in touch with representatives from A Future With Hope, a non-profit organization run in conjunction with the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey.
According to the Website www.afuturewithhope.org/ they have helped restore 250 Sandy affected homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I called them and in a couple days they showed up with a case worker, construction manager and budget person,” he said.
They estimated it might take another $50,000 to $70,000 to fix the mistakes and finish my house,” he said.
Karcz said he should have an answer later this week if they will take on his project.