VENTNOR – Seven years after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Jersey shore, residents gathered at the home of survivor Fran Baronowitz in the Ventnor Heights section today to share stories about the aftermath of the storm.
Although it was nowhere near the high water during the October 2012 storm, street flooding made it difficult to reach Baronowitz’s house. The Dorset Avenue bridge was also closed due to flooding. Those who gathered today expressed concern that their communities are no more ready for extreme weather and flooding than they were seven years ago.
While some families still aren’t back in their homes after Sandy, those who are face the reality of grant clawbacks and the rising costs of flood insurance.
Baronowitz was asked to give back $30,000 in grant funds.
According to the New Jersey Organizing Project, 11% percent of families in the RREM program still have not completed construction or elevation projects and 23% have not completed their close outs. Community members are concerned it will become unaffordable to live in the homes they worked so hard to rebuild.
Many families do not have enough funding to complete their recovery. If it were not for the Supplemental Funding program that Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Organizing Project announced on the Sandy anniversary in 2018, many would not be home.
“It’s critical that as many families as possible get access to this funding as soon as possible so they can move forward,” said Alison Arne of the NJOP.
Storm survivors are being asked to pay back their own insurance money, loans and grants because of an outdated and dysfunctional disaster recovery system, Arne said.
“The state took a major step forward when Gov. Murphy announced a freeze on clawbacks last year. But a freeze does not mean money is not owed, just that repayment is not due at this time,” she said.
“Two years after I moved back in my lifted house, I got a letter from RREM requesting over $35,000 back,” Baronowitz said. “It shocked me, because I did everything I was supposed to do.”
While recovery efforts are ongoing, FEMA is preparing to update flood maps and the cost of flood insurance premiums. The new maps could double the number of properties in designated flood zones and double the cost of premiums every four years.
Effective flood mitigation, caps on premium increases and oversight over private insurers, is needed, Arne said.
“If our flood insurance rates triple or quadruple over the next few years, all the fighting we’ve done over the last seven years will have been useless, and our communities will crumble,” NJOP President Joe Mangino said. “We will continue to fight together to make sure Sandy families get home, can afford to stay home and are better prepared for future storms.”
The NJOP also held events this week in Brick and Toms River.