TOMS RIVER – Nearly five years after Superstorm Sandy, residents are still looking for help navigating the government assistance programs, but there are fewer needing help now than there had been.
An information session was held in the Toms River municipal building to give impacted homeowners guidance in going through the process.
Lisa Ryan, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, said that about 55 households were served at the session. This is a much lower number than when they started having sessions in 2014.
These days, sessions average around 50 households, she said. Some residents they will see at a few sessions a year, as they have intricate issues that need to be worked out.
The questions that homeowners bring to these sessions run the gamut, she said, and are very specific to each home. It could be about flooring, or air conditioning. Some are finishing up their projects, and some are still in the beginning stages. It could be about contractor performance. The contractor might be taking too long on a project, or the work is substandard. “They might want to know how to file a complaint because they feel it’s risen to the level of fraud.”
Statewide, there are approximately 7,600 homeowners in RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation), Ryan reported. Of those, 5,428 have completed construction and the remainder are in construction. Furthermore, there are 700 of those in construction that are able to live out of their homes while they are working on them.
The DCA hosted the session, and had their own staff from the Sandy Recovery Division and Housing Recovery Centers there. Spots were given to other departments such as the Rental Assistance Program, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, and RREM project managers.
People at a front desk spoke to people coming in, trying to figure out what their status was so they could direct them to the right table. Paperwork was laid out about such things as Energy Star compliance, green construction, and the New Jersey Hardest Hit Fund. There was also a RREM tip sheet about how to work with contractors.
Dave Miller came down from Keansburg to get more information. He had questions about an amendment to his grant. One thing that was helpful was he was able to meet his advisor in person.
“It was nice talking to them face to face,” he said. “They probably get 100 emails a day, if not 200.”
He said that even though the process is a maze of paperwork, the people at these events are professionals who really know their stuff and genuinely want to help.
Frank Markovics had to evacuate his house on Long Beach Island and stay with family during the years it took to rebuild and raise his home. The first floor was totally destroyed.
Overall, he and his daughter-in-law said that their experience with the RREM program was good, and that the people they’ve spoken to have been helpful. They attended the session for help with their asbestos manifest so they can get final inspection and final reimbursement with the program.
For more information, contact the DCA’s Sandy Constituent Services Office by calling 609-292-3750 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Sandy Recovery Housing Counseling Program and the Rental Assistance Program, visit renewjerseystronger.org/homeowners/sandy-recovery-housing-counseling-program and nj.gov/dca/hmfa/homeownership/owners/ssbg/indiw.formspub.previewex.shtml.