Superstorm Sandy hit us in October 2012 – almost 4 1/2 years ago. My world has never been the same. On the day before the storm I was a ‘normal’ small business person with decent cash flow, bills paid, a little money in the bank, adequate business capital, and good credit. All of that changed for the worse. Little else has changed over these past years. We all recognize now that it was not the storm itself that had lasting impact but the man-made “disaster after the disaster” that caused the most damage. I am still fighting every day to recover. Here is where we are now:
- Homeowners insurance was allowed to exclude wind damage and therefore my entire claim was denied. I am gradually making repairs as cash flow permits. I still have major repairs that are not yet started.
- FEMA admitted fraud in the flood insurance claim settlement process when they denied almost all of my claim. Actually only a small portion of my damage was due to flood. I hired a lawyer in 2015 who reopened the claim. We reached an agreement in 2016. It still hasn’t been paid. After paying the lawyer the settlement won’t be much.
- Government aid programs were denied to my entire rural county on the Delaware Bay. Only the nine richer counties on the ocean side were eligible for government aid for Sandy rebuilding. I spent literally hundreds of hours over these past our years preparing applications and paying for supplemental reports with no result. At one point I even contracted with an assistant to help prepare the massive amount of documentation that the government required. I hold Governor Christie personally responsible for this indefensible position that was apparently based only on political reasoning, i.e. we do not have enough voters here.
- Home values have fallen rapidly. My home that was worth about $160,000 before Sandy is worth about $20,000 today.
- Telephone lines ware not reinstalled on my street. We switched to cellular even though the signal if not very strong here. We still have no cable or wired internet. Verizon recently made application with the state to remove the remaining telephone lines in the rest of our community.
- Many neighbors sold their houses to the state. I couldn’t afford to do so; the buyout offer was less than the amount I owe on the mortgage. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to find another home elsewhere for anywhere close to the amount offered for this home.
- One neighbor says he received a notice that the electric company will soon discontinue service. We are all working toward self-sustaining energy systems but I am nowhere close to ready for cutting off ties with the electric company.
- I completed a dune building project to protect my house from future storms. It took a while to get the right combination of landscape materials and grasses but I feel that we are ready for the future.
- The local government completed work on a seawall that protects my home from future floods. The risk of future home damage due to storms is now reduced.
- Flood insurance rates increased. More increases are threatened after a risk survey is completed for our area.
- Property taxes increased sharply. As the state buys more houses in the township, there are fewer taxpaying homeowners remaining to cover ever-increasing government costs. Sharp tax increases are expected.
- I am required to upgrade my septic holding tank. The engineering plan and permit application was submitted in 2013 but I am still waiting for approval by the state. I expect a decision this spring. The cost is expected to be in the range of $25,000. I do not yet have a plan to pay for the repair.
- The lender who provided money for emergency repairs in 2013 has sued for collection. I did my best to negotiate an extension on the repayment but ultimately cannot deter them from taking legal action at this point.
- My business income is significantly lower than before Sandy. There are many contributing factors but the many hours I spend dealing with government clearly cut into my income earning capacity.
- My legal expenses for all of these actions continue to grow.
- This week the news reported that the next federal budget proposed by the Trump administration includes a surcharge on flood insurance premium to pay for the Mexican wall. Our NJ politicians are outraged but they have not been effective in upholding NJ citizens’ rights against the Trump regime so far and I fear this won’t turn out any better.
- Government threatens to resume its building code prosecution if I do not complete Sandy repairs. It is not clear to me which branch of government will handle the prosecution. The threat letters come from the state DEP but contain listing of personnel from both state and county offices. In January 2016 the local township prosecuted me for a $500 per day violation of their Certificate of Occupancy rule. I can’t get a Certificate of Occupancy because repairs are not complete so this is a ‘Catch 22″. At one point the township solicitor even mentioned possible jail time if I continued to assertively defend against the charge. I had to hire a lawyer at additional expense. In the end we settled the case and they dropped the charge. I continue to receive letters from the state and county threatening prosecution. I worry that I won’t be so lucky with higher-powered prosecutors.
Sandy had a previously unimaginable long-term impact on my health, business and personal relationships. I regret that I am more cynical and less trusting of individuals who say “I’m from the government. I’m here to help”. Since Sandy I’ve lived almost 60 miles away in a family home in Pennsylvania. I hope to return someday. I will keep working, trying to resolve these obstacles and rebuild a decent place to live. I think that we will be successful if I simply do not give up. Yet the cost and financial consequences of Sandy will likely have multi-generational impact. Not only on my own financial security in retirement bit also the standards and expectations of our children.
My earlier blog posts on Sandy recovery:
- The faces of Sandy tell a story of despair
- Proposed Sandy tax relief for individuals and businesses
- Post-Sandy Government Shame List
- Rolling back the clock to reconsider a financial mistake: the Sandy recovery saga of Money Island Marina
- Update on NJ Sandy Recovery – January 2015
- Two years after Sandy many are still suffering
- Comment on “A Tale of Two Recoveries: Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy”
- Sandy flood insurance claim review won’t be an easy process
- New report on Sandy devastation to NJ fishing-related businesses
- 3 Years After Sandy: Where am I Now?