Sandy Victims Forced to Elevate Homes, Told to Keep Waiting

Homeowners are being forced to elevate their homes, costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's been 9 months since Superstorm Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes along the shoreline. Many homeowners are still trying to rebuild, but can't because they don't have the money to elevate their homes. It's something the federal government is forcing them to do. Despite big donations to non-profits like the American Red Cross and millions in promised federal funds, some Connecticut homeowners still can't seem to find help or answers.

    Nine months after Superstorm Sandy destroyed hundreds of homes along the shoreline, many homeowners are still trying to rebuild, but can't because they don't have the money to elevate their homes. 

    It is something the federal government is forcing them to do.  Despite big donations to non-profits like the American Red Cross and millions in promised federal funds, some Connecticut homeowners still can't seem to find help or answers.

    Colin Buchanan is one of them.  His Milford home was flooded by the storm causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

    "We had to take out all the insulation.  The furniture was ruined.  You name it and it's gone," said Buchanan from inside his now gutted home.

    Buchanan is one of many Sandy victims who still remain in the dark about how much financial assistance, if any, they stand to get to elevate their homes.

    "We've been told it's going to $100,000 plus just to raise the house.  That is just to raise the house," Buchanan said incredulously.

    For him, it's money he doesn't have.  He and many of his neighbors, have reached out to everyone from local leaders, to state leaders, even the American Red Cross.  Each time, Buchanan says he's been told there's no money available for elevation.

    "You sit back and you hear about all the money that has been donated.  Where's the money going?  It's not coming to us.  It's not helping us," he said.

    The Troubleshooters went looking for answers and found there's no specific criteria set by either the American Red Cross or the state when it comes to receiving money.

    "We don't like to list criteria because there are so many options that we have to work with folks," said Red Cross spokesman Paul Shipman.

    So many, that even Shipman got confused.  Over the course of several weeks, we asked about a specific Red Cross Program called the Home Elevation Grant.  Buchanan says he was told by a Milford employee that fund had given storm victims up to $10,000 to elevate their homes in the past.
    But Shipman had never heard of it and said he was unclear if it ever existed.  Days later though, the Red Cross confirmed folks along the shoreline are in fact receiving elevation assistance from them, but no checks had been cut yet.

    That said, the Troubleshooters still couldn't get an answer on who was eligible to receive that money either.  It comes just weeks after the Red Cross was criticized by lawmakers in New York for having 110 million dollars of unused aid for Sandy victims.

    "We're proud that were spending that money carefully and stretching the resources over the life of recovery needs for people affected by the storm," said Shipman.

    At the state, the newly created Department of Housing is responsible for dispersing federal dollars to storm victims with unmet needs.  It's so new, the agency still doesn't have its own website. 

    Even though the application process for federal money is well underway in New York and New Jersey, Connecticut is still waiting.  That's because a unique state statute requires the Department of Housing to first submit its plan to the state detailing how federal dollars will be dispersed and accounted for.  Once that's approved, a final action plan is submitted to the Housing and Urban Development office in Washington D. C. for the money.  That extra step delays the process in Connecticut by another 3 to 4 weeks.

    "When you are struck by disaster is something like that quick enough?  Absolutely not, absolutely not," said Evonne Klein, the Department of Housing Commissioner.

    Klein offered assurances though that some of the 72 million dollars promised to Connecticut will help homeowners raise their homes, though she couldn't say exactly how much.

    "Our role here is simply to provide funding to those eligible activities and those eligible homeowners," said Klein.

    Yet the state still hasn't defined what makes a homeowner "eligible" or how anyone can apply for it.  It's something Milford Mayor Ben Blake specifically noted in a June letter to the Department of Housing.

    "That's one of the things that's still not finalized.  The action plan does give guidelines, but there are some income threshold with it, and were hopeful unmet needs will be satisfied in Milford, but...." Blake said as his sentence trailed off.

    Blake admits the process for applying for money, especially federal dollars, is not exactly consumer friendly.

    "It's hugely cumbersome and something that even attorneys, like myself, who deal with complicated legal forms struggle with," Blake said.

    It's little consolation though to people like Buchanan who are running out of money and options and have nowhere else to turn.

    "We sit here and we wait and we wait and we wait," Buchanan lamented.