KIYC: Thousands of NJ families still not home 10 years after Superstorm Sandy

Ten years after Superstorm Sandy devasted much of New Jersey, thousands of families have not returned to homes that were damaged or destroyed. Some advocates tell Kane In Your Corner they’re not convinced the state is better prepared for the next severe storm.
Robert Lukasiewicz says he is nowhere close to returning to his home in Atlantic City. The inside of his house remains gutted, a decade after the storm hit.
“People say, ‘Sandy, that's still a thing?’, you know? Yeah, it's still a thing,” Lukasiewicz says.
Lukasiewicz was approved for a reconstruction grant, but his state-approved contractor walked off the job. He was later approved for a supplemental grant to complete construction, but it was contingent on him spending $55,000 of his own money. He says he could not afford that, so he was forced to withdraw from the program. The experience has left him disillusioned.
“So many people, not just now, but in future events, are going to be thinking they're going to be saved, and they're going to go through this labyrinth that's just going to kill their soul,” he says.
“I feel like I've been through two storms,” Sharon Zappia says. “One was the storm itself. And then it's the storm of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of trying to rebuild.”
Zappia’s home looks nearly complete from the outside, including a new deck. But inside, the home is nowhere close to habitable. Zappia says she was required to spend $64,000 of her own funds to access her supplemental grant. She says to date, she’s spent over $70,000, but only $48,000 counts as “approved expenses,” and she’s struggling to come up with the rest. She says basic things like gas lines, were not included in her plans. But someone had to pay for them – so she did.
The Sandy grant program seems like a huge success on paper. Figures from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs show over 7,000 homeowners have used their grant money to return home, and only 151, like Zappia, have projects in process. But those figures don’t include nearly 5,000 homeowners, like Lukasiewicz, who had to drop out of the program. Nearly 2,000 more face clawbacks. For Sandy advocates, it’s the story that just won’t end.
“People are still struggling with FEMA, they're still struggling with insurance, they're still struggling with the SBA,” says Amanda Devecka Rinear, executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Fifteen years after Katrina, 10 years after Sandy, we have to stop putting people through this.”
The ordeal is especially painful for Lukasiewicz because the house has been in his family for five generations. He says the rebuilding effort has dragged on for so long that many of his older relatives died while waiting for it to be rebuilt.
“I promised my family, we're going to get this done,” he says. “They departed this life and we're still here. And I'm going to get it done.”
Tomorrow: Kane In Your Corner has told the stories of many Superstorm Sandy survivors. Some made it home, but only after a difficult journey.
If you have a story you think needs to be investigated, click HERE to get Kane in Your Corner.