By Karen Sudol, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
HACKENSACK, NJ — Marina Pesheva had already moved her family from her Superstorm Sandy-flooded home in Keansburg, NJ, to the decommissioned Fort Monmouth military base, where she temporarily resides with her husband, two children and two dogs.
Now, she’s being told she needs to vacate the Fort Monmouth one-bedroom apartment by the end of April.
“I just recently started looking (for a rental) but I’m hoping I won’t have to move again because I’m so close to getting our home done,” Pesheva said. “My kids are set on the next time being able to move home.”
The 37 families who remain sheltered at the fort are facing an April 30 move-out date — that’s when the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s temporary housing assistance is set to expire. The deadline would also affect 25 families living in manufactured units in mobile home parks.
And 13 of the families living in the Megill section of the fort are being asked to get out even earlier; the fort’s developer has requested that that area be vacated by April 1 to start developing it, according to Alberto Pillot, the public information officer for FEMA’s New Jersey office.
Pillot said FEMA will work toward that goal but emphasized that no fort residents will be forced out if they have not found other housing by the deadlines.
“People think that FEMA will throw them out on the street,” Pillot said. “We’ll work with them every day to find them affordable housing and a housing plan. We’re not abandoning these people.”
While FEMA helps displaced Sandy residents, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also stepped in. Christie wrote President Barack Obama on Jan. 28 requesting a six-month extension of the assistance program “so that our hardest hit residents can continue to receive much needed financial aid and direct housing assistance until their homes are repaired or they can find more permanent housing.”
The president, who signed a disaster declaration for New Jersey on Oct. 30, 2012, must grant the extension.
The governor noted in the letter that many Fort Monmouth residents are still waiting for insurance settlements to fund repairs, while others have been approved for rebuilding grants under the state’s Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program.
The administration has faced harsh criticism recently for the slow pace of issuing funds through that program, which provides up to $150,000 for Sandy victims to repair, rebuild or elevate their homes.
The state is also “facilitating the repair and construction of thousands of affordable housing units to replenish the substantially depleted rental supply in the most impacted communities,” Christie wrote to Obama.
The extension request is “pending,” Christie spokesman Colin Reed said in an email.
Phone calls and emails made and sent last week to White House spokesman Keith R. Maley were not returned.
Federal legislators and local officials have also thrown their support behind the extension.
U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote in a letter to FEMA that families have likely been housed in multiple locations since the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.
“To make these Sandy survivors move yet again would be onerous at best,” he wrote. “I believe compassion and prudence must be taken with regard to this sensitive issue so these American citizens can experience as little further upset to their lives as possible.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) initially suggested the governor write to Obama and drafted his own letter of support to the president.
“More than a year after the storm, countless New Jersey residents are still struggling to repair and elevate their homes, he wrote in the Feb. 5 letter. “If they lose their temporary housing assistance, many will be unable to afford to pay rent for temporary housing in addition to their mortgage while their home is being repaired.”
Sea Bright and Oceanport, two Monmouth County towns affected by the storm, recently approved resolutions backing the six-month extension. Many residents require substantial repairs or replacement of their homes but are facing “delays to commencement of construction (that) have been created by the federal, state and local governments as well as a result of new flood mapping, insurance claims and new building regulations, creating an additional hardship on these displaced residents,” the resolution stated.
Sandy victims’ lives are already complicated enough by navigating the maze of rebuilding grants and determining how the second round of funding recently announced by the state will affect them, said Oceanport Mayor Michael Mahon.
“These are folks who want to get back where they belong and begin the lives they had prior to Sandy,” Mahon said. “To me it’s a no-brainer that we should try to help them.”
After Sandy walloped the New Jersey coastline, FEMA signed a lease with the Army to use some of the housing at the fort that was closed in September 2011 as a cost-cutting measure. Sandy victims have been housed in two sections since December 2012: one area that had served as officer’s quarters and the Megill housing, located behind the Suneagles Golf Course.
At the peak, 115 families stayed at the fort, which is located in Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls, Pillot said.
Pesheva and others said they have been told they must be out by April 1.
Time is running out, and Pesheva said she is having difficulty finding an apartment that is both affordable and accessible for her husband, who is paralyzed.
“Let’s say we’re lucky enough to find a place,” Pesheva said. “How am I funding this? I’m already paying a mortgage and for a storage unit for the stuff that we saved.”
She also said her family just signed an agreement to receive a $150,000 grant to rebuild her home, which had to be razed due to storm damage. Work is scheduled to begin on Monday and the modular home could be finished within six weeks.
Had Pesheva received the state funds earlier, though, she wouldn’t be facing this dilemma.
“Even if FEMA says not to extend it, the state should take accountability for this,” she said.
Photo: acccarrino via Flickr