LEONARDO - More than a year after Sandy, there is still confusion about how New Jersey’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation grants work. A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds that confusion isn’t just limited to homeowners. Even people responsible for processing applications are having trouble keeping up with the nuances of the programs and the occasional rules changes.
Kelly Brier, of Leonardo, called Kane In Your Corner after she hit an impasse with her RREM housing advisor. Brier’s home was untouched a year after Sandy. She is about to spend her second winter in a small RV in front of the house, along with her husband, daughter and two large dogs. Brier is especially frustrated because she should be among the lucky ones; between her homeowners and flood insurance proceeds, she has enough to restore her home to its pre-Sandy condition. That includes the wood floors and the kitchen they’d just finished remodeling. But the process was derailed when she applied for a RREM grant to help elevate the structure.
“I was told by somebody at the RREM office, ‘No you don't get those things back; you get laminate, and you get linoleum and carpet and we take the additional money that your insurance paid out and redistribute it to others,” Brier says.
Brier says he would have understood that if she was applying for grant money to restore her home, but she was willing to pay for that herself and only wanted the assistance with elevation. “Logically, one would think that if you had insurance, and it covered you to replace something, it would get replaced. It seemed like a no-brainer,” she says.
Apparently, it is. Lisa Ryan, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Affairs, says it appears the Briers’ housing advisor misunderstood the rules. While RREM grants typically restore homes only to HUD-approved levels she says homeowners are entitled to upgrades as long as they pay for it themselves.
"If a homeowner only wants to use their RREM grant to elevate their home, that's fine," Ryan says, adding that even homeowners who use state-selected contractors can select upgrades “so long as they have available funds to place in escrow."
Kane In Your Corner has also gotten numerous calls from homeowners who say they are still being told they must use RREM-selected contractors and cannot use their own. That’s not the case. The guidelines were changed more than a month ago to allow homeowners to use their own contractors in most cases, and seek reimbursement for the work.