Still homeless with a mortgage

Sandy victims still in limbo


Nearly one year after Superstorm Sandy, many residents are still not home, thanks to bureacratic red tape. Government funding earmarked to help Sandy victims rebuild homes remains in limbo, leaving homeowners angry and frustrated.

“It’s a constant battle,” said Stephen Conklin. He stood on the front steps of his damaged Seaford home with his wife Patricia at a press conference last week. “There has been so much paperwork but we’re still waiting...for money, for answers,” he said.

Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg, who called the press conference, said “the Conklins are not alone. There are probably 5,000 residents in Nassau County still out of their homes. This adds insult to injury. The state [which is charged with dispensing federal funds to hard-hit residents] needs to start paying out now.”

“Catch 22”

The Conklins have suffered numerous setbacks since the storm. Their home has suffered such extensive damage that Mr. Conklin is looking to tear it down, he said. But they don’t have the money to tear down and rebuild even though they paid their insurance premiums through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. “I’m a victim of the earth movement clause,” he said, “and my claim was denied.”

The earth movement clause states that damage caused by the movement of soil or earth – even if the movement is the result of flooding – is not eligible for coverage.

But Mr. Conklin thought he had other options – a low-cost loan through the SBA and money through the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, which is charged with the task of dispersing federal funds allotted to New York state for communities hit hardest by Sandy. Seaford is to receive $7,895,114 and Wantagh, $3,344,985. Residents, who may receive money for repairs up to $250,000, have been encouraged to submit applications to New York Rising regional offices such as the one that opened in Seaford in July.

More good news broke last week, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state would fully compensate homeowners for the repair costs of damage to their homes due to earth movement exclusion during Sandy. But no money has yet to reach homeowners

“I was the first in line” said Mr. Conklin, who waited three months – as of October 2, the day of this press conference – before an inspector came to his home to review the Conklin’s application. Now he will wait again, until a determination is made, including a review of what other money he has received, including the SBA loan.

“I was told by FEMA that I had to apply for the SBA loan,” said Mr.Conklin “but that amount was reduced after they told me I wasn’t moving fast enough on the work.” Mr. Conklin said the government requires very detailed estimates from contractors before releasing the money. “What contractor has the time to do that and for free?”

Charlie Spoto, a neighbor of the Conklins is close to completing reconstruction to his home with money he laid out. “It’s been a fight since the storm, nonstop bureaucratic nonsense. They wanted me to reproduce all my documents. That’s not an easy thing when you are in disarray. New York Rising inspectors have been here twice, but I haven’t heard from them and when I ask questions they don’t seem to know what’s going on.”

Other problems with NY Rising

Michele Mittleman, of the Sandy Victims Fight FEMA facebook group, said in a post that the NY Rising program still needs to provide clear information to help residents struggling to raise homes as well as buy-out programs for residents who do not wish to return to their homes, or are struggling to raise homes. “NY Rising has not yet paid $1 to anyone who suffered Sandy damages. We cannot wait any longer, we need to re-build and go home. We are tired of being homeless with a mortgage,” she wrote.

“We need to start making payments now,” said Legislator Denenberg. “The Conklins and the Spotos are us – hardworking people, who are trying to do the right thing. It’s time to turn on the faucet and let the money flow.”