KIYC: Sandy victim left homeless after home project delay

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TOMS RIVER -

A Toms River man whose house was damaged during Superstorm Sandy has now been homeless for almost three years, because of a house lifting project that was supposed to take no more than three months. 

And a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds what happened to Andre Buranicz is not unusual. Nearly five years after Sandy, nearly a third of homeowners who received state grants have not completed construction and advocates say many, like Buranicz, have seen their projects stall painfully close to the finish line.

“It’s like a bureaucracy that keeps on going,” says Buranicz, who recently suffered a stroke, which he blames on stress. He says he now wishes he’d never accepted the grant, because “at least I would be in good health.”

Buranicz moved out of his home in 2014, after getting a state RREM grant to elevate his home. He was part of Pathway C, a now-defunct option in which the state hired the contractor, and work was guaranteed to be completed in 90 days or less. By the time Kane In Your Corner first interviewed him last October, Buranicz had already been out of his house for more than two years. 

Not much has changed since then. His front porch, which had been built too close to an existing bay window, has been moved a few feet further away, but it’s on a temporary support that resembles an overgrown sawhorse.

Buranicz is not alone. New Jersey Department of Community Affairs data shows 7,600 homeowners received RREM Grants. Nearly a third, 2,300 of them, have not finished construction.  

Advocates say those numbers only tell a small part of the story. “Those are just the people who are in the state RREM program,” says Bridget Holmes, assistant director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group. “We know that in Ocean County alone we had 36,000 flood insurance claims. So it's really very difficult to determine how many people are still not complete.”

NJ Community Affairs spokesperson Lisa Ryan says Buranicz’s contractor, Atlas Elevation of Louisiana, “successfully completed 16 Pathway C projects,” adding, “While four projects they've been assigned are not complete, two are substantially finished.” Ryan says federal privacy rules forbid her from disclosing if Buranicz is one of the homeowners considered “substantially finished.”

Atlas Elevation did not return phone calls. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs says it has received eight complaints about the company, which it says are “under review.”

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