Sandy Victims Accept Donations to Help Rebuild

By Christie Duffy

A $50,000 check made out to the Gateway Church of Christ, which is dedicated to helping people in Union Beach rebuild their lives after Sandy. The check is for 10 families who lost their homes.

“Ten families here in Union Beach will get help building their foundations. Of course foundations cost a little more than $5,000 each, but it kinda gets them moving,” said Carl Williamson of the Gateway Church of Christ Disaster Response Program.

The check was a gift from the Jewish Federation of Metrowest.

“These people need to rebuild their lives. And we are very blessed to be in a position to help them,” said Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey President Lori Klinghoffer.

People like Bob and Pam Vazquez. The check was presented on their property. Their home was destroyed by Sandy while they were in it. They had to swim to safety on a neighbor’s deck.

They’ve been waiting for money from the RREM program to rebuild. They say they were approved for the maximum last fall — $150,000. But they’ve since lost hope about waiting for that check.

“This is the last time I’m coming home to find my wife crying because she was disappointed again. We are gonna go with our church, our neighbors and our community and we’re gonna build a house. And we’re gonna do it on our own,” said Bob Vazquez.

They don’t know why they haven’t received the grant money.

“The only answer they’ll give us is that it is on hold and they can’t tell us anything else,” said Vazquez.

On the other side of town, only about a mile away, I’m standing inside a home that is almost finished being rebuilt, funded, in part, by an RREM grant.

“I can’t even begin to describe that. It’s exciting. It’s been a long time,” said RREM grant recipient and Sandy victim Desiree Durkin.

Her rebuild is funded by a combination of insurance, a loan and an RREM grant.

The state Department of Community Affairs manages RREM. It’s the largest Sandy housing grant program available here. It’s been criticized as mismanaged, too slow and for lacking in communication with applicants.

“Yes, it would have been nice to get it a lot sooner. Because again we’re coming on a year and a half, and I believe I am the first person to get this grant,” Durkin said.

The governor took yet another question on the program at his town hall yesterday.

“This has not gone perfectly, far from it. This is the first time we have done this,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

DCA Commissioner Richard Constable also rebuffs the critics. He says to date, there have been 1,900 RREM grant signings, obligating more than $212 million to be spent on rebuilding Sandy-damaged homes.

By this time next week, the DCA plans to complete another 100 grant signings, obligating more than a quarter billion dollars in all to homeowners.