KIYC: Some ‘Sandy Success Stories’ not so successful

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Five years after Sandy, the Christie administration says 70 percent of families that received grants are back home, but a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds for some, being home isn’t enough.

Steve Fritts, 73, wells up with tears when asked how he made it through the five-year process of rebuilding and elevating his home in Point Pleasant. “My wife,” he finally says. “Every time I wanted to give up, she says take it easy, we’ll get it done.” 

His wife, Jeanne, describes the process as “months and months and hours and hours and days and days of work, work, work.”

Of the 7,967 New Jersey grant recipients, the Christie administration now says 5,650 are back home. But Steve and Jeanne Fritts don’t feel like success stories. Their elevation and rehabilitation project was derailed by alleged contractor fraud. The state has filed fraud charges against their contractor, TMB Services of Louisiana, but because the couple already used retirement savings to complete the job on their own, they won’t qualify for additional grant money.

“For a homeowner, it became very challenging to figure out how to get your family back home and how not to step on a trap door,” says Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group.

Take Tom and Violet Pravata, of Toms River. They’re back home, but their house failed its final inspection.  “Because the floors of the house were not properly secured, they’re sinking,” Tom Pravata says. They and their contractor are now suing each other. In the meantime, without a certificate of occupancy, the Pravatas are living in their house illegally.

Then there are families like Tom and Marjorie Shaffer, of Little Egg Harbor, who made it home only to face crippling financial blows from government clawbacks. Earlier this year, the government demanded the Shaffers repay $120,000, because they’d gotten both a grant and an SBA loan, which is considered a duplication of benefits. The clawback has since been reduced to $68,000, but Fred Shaffer says that’s still more than enough to keep him awake at night.

The state of New Jersey’s Sandy Recovery website still lists the Shaffers as a “Sandy Success Story.”

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