Homeowners can’t afford to rebuild damaged structures.
Story by Jeff Lipton.
West End resident Anna Ervolina fears she may never be able to rebuild her storm-ravaged Pennsylvania Avenue home. With stringent federal guidelines staring her in the face, Ervolina is giving up hope of ever moving back into the home she has lived for the past 10 years.
She, her husband Mike and two young children have been living with her parents in Rockville Centre, forced out of Long Beach by Hurricane Sandy when about five feet of sea water, sewage and ground water rushed into her home and destroyed everything.
According to recent guidelines, if the cost of repairing a home exceeds 50 percent of the structure’s value, it must come into FEMA compliance. For Ervolina and many of her neighbors, that means they must elevate their homes eight feet above sea level.
Estimates she has received indicate it will cost her between $185,000 and $200,000 to raise her 800-square-foot home to meet the requirements. Her insurance is not nearly enough to cover that and neither is the $30,000 FEMA is offering in Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) to raise the height of the structure.
“Ever since the storm, worrying about this has kept me up all night long,” said Ervolina. “This is a devastating thing that could change the face of the West End. People who can’t afford their homes will lose their homes.”
She said the city informed her that her repair costs will come to about 60 percent of what the home is worth, which means she has to become FEMA-compliant.
“We can’t repair our home because we have to be code-compliant,” she said. “There’s a huge gap in what the insurance money will give us and what we will actually need to rebuild our home.”
Denis Kelly, an attorney and former city councilman, said he has spoken with several Long Beach homeowners who are frightened about their futures.
“It has become very scary and complicated for people particularly in the West End and the Canals,” Kelly said. “Where is that money going to come from to be FEMA-compliant?
“I am convinced that the homes that were significantly damaged will cost these people far more money than they are ever going to see,” Kelly added.
Long Beach Buildings Department Commissioner Scott Kemins said he has received more phone calls from residents who want to become FEMA-compliant so they could be eligible for the ICC funding.
“Of all the calls I’m getting, people want to raise the height of their homes or knock it down and rebuild so they could become FEMA-compliant,” Kemins said.
Of the roughly 400 building inspections carried out by the city, about 90 percent of the residents were interested in becoming eligible for the ICC funds.
“They wanted to try to get the extra money and not have to live through this again,” Kemins said. “We are trying to work with residents and either scenario is appealable.”
The commissioner added that those who don’t want to fall under FEMA compliance can easily appeal it by providing a letter from an architect stating that the house did not sustain enough damage to meet the more than 50 percent repair criteria.
Kemins said those who do not elevate their homes face significantly higher flood insurance rates.
“I am hearing a lot of nightmare stories about flood insurance companies,” he said.
FEMA regulations stipulate that Long Beach homes in flood zones must be between eight and 17 feet above sea level depending on the location. Two new homes built at 71 and 73 Pennsylvania Ave. are FEMA-compliant, Kemins noted.
Hurricane Sandy victims in New York have until Jan. 28 to register for FEMA assistance, according to John Mills of FEMA in Nassau County, and the easiest way to apply is online. Low-interest loans are also available from other sources such as the Small Business Administration, Mills added. He said residents can also receive help from the Disaster Recovery Center at the Long Beach Recreation Center, at 700 Magnolia Blvd.
“It’s a major disaster,” Mills said. “It’s not easy and it’s definitely frustrating at times.”
Ervolina said she is running out of hope after contacting her elected officials and getting nowhere.
“I may lose my house and I can’t accept that,” said Ervolina, who has even considered filing for bankruptcy. “I loved my community and my way of life.”
Even if her home is rebuilt, it will be at least a year before she can move in again, she said.
“I’m living in my old bedroom in my parents’ house,” she said. “I can’t go home because I don’t have a home to go to.”
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