By Brenda Flanagan
Carpenters added railings to Krista Sperber’s front porch in Belmar today, bringing the Sandy survivor a few steps closer to home. It’s a big improvement over the flood-wrecked building we saw almost two years ago. But as the rebuilding process dragged on, her family’s moved five times — waiting.
“There was no rental assistance. We’re in a summer community. We couldn’t find a place to live and stay with their friends and neighbors. Thankfully we have a really great neighborhood, took us in,” said Sperber.
“I’m actually in a camper right now, because I have to be off the property,” said Lisa Stevens.
Stevens can’t go home yet, either. Many Sandy homeowners say they feel twice victimized — once by Sandy, and again by the problem plagued state-run rebuilding program.
“It was failure. You know, there’s only 10 percent of the people that have been put back in their homes,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Sweeney sponsored the Sandy Transparency Act, which requires the state to provide critical data to survivors as they navigate the labyrinth of grants and loans applications, to elevate and renovate their homes. New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs will gear up over the next couple of months to eventually offer information like case status, amounts, deadlines.
“Families can get answers. And I think that’s the most important piece here, is to be able to find out where you stand and when you can expect help,” said Sweeney.
“I think with the transparency, I think we’re gonna be able to see more of how that’s going,” said Stevens.
“It’s gonna be a huge help, cause people are gonna know. Knowing is the most important thing and we can plan ahead. Now you know you’re gonna be out 90 days, 180 days — whatever it is. That gives you time to get your rental assistance taken care of,” said Joe Mangino.
Mangino’s not home in beach Haven West yet. He got help from Gov. Chris Christie — but,
“It took me traveling to Iowa in March to confront our governor at an agriculture summit get my project to finally begin. And people shouldn’t have to do that,” said Mangino.
But the Department of Community Affairs takes a very different view, stating the Transparency Act “…essentially codifies much of what DCA already has been doing to let the public at large and individual applicants know how … Disaster Recovery funds are being used in the Sandy recovery effort …We’re confident homeowners in the RREM Program know where they are in the process and have resources readily available should they have questions about their individual situation…”
Sperber disagrees. She demonstrated with other Sandy victims when the governor announced his candidacy for president. Then a Westfield contractor offered to raise her home for free.
“The final move, Home. Finally,” Sperber said.
While families say they do welcome the increased transparency, they want more. They want the rebuilding to be done before Sandy’s third anniversary. They want to go home.