Secondary homeowners on the Jersey Shore want help with rebuilding their Superstorm Sandy-damaged properties, and more than 200 of them gathered in Toms River Wednesday night in search of answers.
At the inaugural meeting of the Secondary Homeowners Association, group organizer Joe Driscoll of Rebuild Our Shore said secondary homeowners must join together and participate in “civil discussion and debate.” Then, they'll have a collective voice with which to address their concerns to legislators and government agencies.Popular Stories
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“We want to push for legislative activism and also shine a positive light on the public officials supporting this organization,” Driscoll said at the meeting in Toms River Intermediate School North.
Along with Driscoll, several leaders of local grassroots organizations helping to rebuild the battered Jersey Shore spoke on their all-volunteer efforts to assist those affected by the storm. They included Joan DeLucia of Sandy Weekday Warriors, Gina Cavallo of Paying it Forward Relief, and Pat Donaghue, executive director of the People’s Pantry in Toms River.
Those groups have collaborated to help Sandy-affected citizens through donations of food and vital supplies, medical equipment plus rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts for damaged homes.
“We do not say secondary homeowners, we call you homeowners, period,” said Cavallo. “We do care and we’re not going anywhere. I know I’m not.”
Cavallo urged those homeowners to retain their shore properties and not give up.
“Please don’t lose hope,” Cavallo said.
Secondary Homeowners Address FEMA Representatives
Map team members and flood insurance experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency also attended Wednesday’s meeting to explain the government’s policies on flood insurance and disbursement of funds, or in the cases of many secondary homeowners, the lack thereof. A FEMA representative pointed out that federal law is controlling much of what can and cannot be done.
“A lot of what you will hear tonight is statutory. You have to understand that,” said Mark Rollins, a community education outreach specialist for FEMA.
Rollins explained Congress made a decision to create new versions of flood maps in July 2012, predating Sandy. That choice, Rollins added, then affected flood insurance premiums.
“Those issues all came together during the hurricane,” said Rollins.
Mike Foley, a deputy director of hazard mitigation operations in New Jersey, said Gov. Chris Christie’s office had to make “hard decisions” on prioritizing aid money for those whose primary residences were damaged or destroyed in the storm.
“Those funds are there to use at the state’s discretion,” said Foley. “The pot of money is finite.”
Those explanations weren’t satisfactory for residents struggling to recover their secondary homes and claiming to be told they don’t have any right to aid money, despite paying the same taxes and flood insurance premiums as primary homeowners.
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development recently approved $1.8 billion in funds for distribution, and secondary homeowners won’t see a penny of it.
“Why did we have to sign up for the mitigation program? 70 percent of the people affected by Sandy on the coast are secondary homeowners,” said George Kasimos, a realtor and activist leading an organization called Stop FEMA Now.
A woman in the audience said Sandy couldn’t be the first time secondary homeowners were affected by a major storm and asked these questions of government agencies.
“What can we do to recover?” she asked.
Foley replied that changes would need to be made to the National Flood Insurance Program, an act that only Congress could take upon themselves to accomplish.
“FEMA doesn’t tell Congress what to do, but we brief Congress on making better decisions,” said Foley. “We’ll certainly tell them about you.”