Our friends came home yesterday to see their new kitchen completed, five months after Sandy. They celebrated—for about five minutes. Then they opened a letter from the City unceremoniously stating that they must raise or completely destroy their newly rebuilt home.
As it turns out, the people whose houses you saw in my last entry might be the lucky ones. Delays have allowed those of us in waiting to catch some of the truth as it trickles out. We are able to make decisions and act (or not act) with slightly more understanding than some of our neighbors who started rebuilding relatively quickly. The complex and disorganized process in which many homeowners were unknowingly involved is slowly being revealed.
Steve and I are waiting for our letter. We are hoping that FEMA determines, from looking at the outside of our house (which sort of unfortunately looks pretty good) that the cost of our damage equals more than 50% of the value of the structure. This should qualify us for the $30,000 in assistance that would replenish a bit less than half the total cost of raising our house.
If they cannot discover the truth of our situation, specifically that repairing our damage will indeed cost more than 50% of our house’s worth—then we are told we can appeal to our city’s building department using our adjuster’s report. Once we get a letter from the building department stating that our damage is extensive enough, we can apply, through our insurance company, for the FEMA assistance. Once you see how many agencies are involved—FEMA, the City, the insurance company, and FEMA again, you can understand how applications submitted by people severely affected by Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011 have not even been considered yet.
Because we were delayed, we now know that our insurance will more than quadruple if we do not elevate. We know that FEMA is coming around house to house assessing structural damage for the purpose of determining whether or not residents are required to raise their homes. We know that many residents who live in ranches like ours are being told (only now!) to raise or raze. We are informed enough to be able to make the decision to lift our house while it is stripped, light, disconnected, and empty of our possessions—if we can figure out how to pay for it. But at least we know what we need to do and how much money we will need to do it. Our friends were blindsided. They’ve spent their savings over five months so that they could enjoy their brand new kitchen for five minutes.
Now they may have to walk away.