LINDEN – It has been a rough year for homeowners living in the Tremely Point and Emma Place neighborhoods. Many have tried to repair their homes, while still others suffered flooding damages so severe from superstorm Sandy that the cost is beyond what they could possibly afford. Despite the grim outlook, help is on the way for some of these flood victims.
Andris Yasnivich, a retired factory worker, stood before his modest home in the Tremley Point section of the city shaking his head. Eyes mirroring the disbelief he still feels so long after flooding moved his home off its foundation. Turning away in embarrassment to wipe his eyes of tears that filled his eyes, the elderly man waited a few seconds until he regained composure before turning around to explain what life has been like since Oct. 29, 2012.
“I thought when I paid off this house and retired life would be easy but this last year it has been nothing but heartache and questions, but no answers,” the resident said shaking his head.
Until just recently, he explained, he had no idea how or where he would find the money to repair the home that shifted off its foundation by the force of Sandy-driven floodwaters. After all, he said, his pension is enough to live off of, but foundation repairs alone were estimated at $50,000 or more. And that is only the beginning of repairs that will be needed.
“Who has that kind of money? Nobody had answers. Not FEMA, not no one. The only thing anyone said was they could loan us money. Loan me money? I don’t want to borrow money. I’m an old man,” he said, but admitted the Blue Acres program he heard about at a neighborhood meeting could be the answer for homeowners whose damages were severe.
“We had to go live with my sister, then with my daughter, now with my son. We need someone to help us. Not a handout. I have too much pride to take charity,” Yasnivich added. “We live in America. They give money to everyone when disaster happens. This is a disaster.”
Help could come in the form of a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Blue Acres program that earmarked $300 million to buy properties from willing sellers. One hundred and twenty-two municipalities are eligible to apply for the loans and Linden is one of them. Whether a homeowner qualifies, though, depends heavily on the damage their property sustained.
The program was designed to allow the state to purchase homes that are flood prone and return the land to open space. Although the program has been in demand for years, especially in low-lying neighborhoods throughout the state that experience regular flooding, it routinely ran out of funding to purchase wide expanses of land.
Mayor Rich Gerbounka attended both meetings in the Tremley Point and Emma Place neighborhoods held by state officials in recent weeks for residents whose homes suffered at least 50 percent reduction in value as a result of storm damage last October. He felt strongly that this particular program was the answer for these areas.
“Out of the 30 communities eligible for this program, Linden is number six on the list to get money,” the mayor explained, adding that the Tremley Point and Emma Place areas are especially critical because of the impact of the Arthur Kill.
“They were flooded by Irene and then Sandy. How much can these residents take? Enough is enough,” he added.
“Even though we will be losing tax money on the properties the DEP buys, I know this is the only answer for these residents who had their homes and lives destroyed by this storm,” the mayor said.
Larry Hana, NJDEP Blue Acres spokesperson said in an interview with LocalSource last week that they had about 150 people turn out for both informational meetings held in Linden.
“We have had similar turnouts in other communities impacted by flooding,” he said, adding that the purpose of the meetings was to provide these residents with basic information about the program and “get the process going at the local level.”
“Basically, the local government is charged with getting a list of property owners together and sends that list to us. When we get it, we make sure the homes are evaluated and then we narrow that list,” Hana said.
The question most residents asked at the local level meetings was the length of time it would take to get this process moving. Hana explained that while normally things would move slowly, that is not the case with the Blue Acres funding.
“It has been a goal of this administration to move things alone,” he explained, adding this particular program could take a few years from start to end, but that changed.
“We’re trying to cut that by half,” Hana added, noting that homeowners accepted for the program will each have a case manager working with them one-on-one throughout the appraisal process.
“If a property owner doesn’t like the appraisal price we offer, they can pay for a second appraisal on their own,” he added, noting that the DEP expected there will be 1,000 properties purchased in flood areas throughout the state as a result of Sandy.
“Sandy was a life changing event,” Hana said, explaining the DEP had 140 to 200 homeowners in Sayreville that qualified for the Blue Acres buyout. But the process is not without its ups and downs.
“We have made quite a few offers and a number of homeowners have accepted. Only one refused,” he said, adding a few were not happy with the appraisals they received but the DEP is using professional independent appraisers.
“It’s a process but very often people think their home is worth more than it is appraised for,” Hana said.
Yasnivich said he is open to hearing more and he is praying that his property will be one of those included in the Blue Acres program buyout.
“It’s the first good news I have heard in a long, long time and I thank God for my prayers being answered,” he said, adding that just having this hope has lifted his spirits and that of his family.