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Residents Can’t Live with FEMA Rules

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.”
Eddie January 22, 2013 at 02:04 PM
I like your way of thinking, Me. It's a personal choice to raise your home or not raise it. You're in it for the long run and now is the right time to try to swing it. There is some money available, labor costs are never going to be cheaper and it is likely that market prices will continue to rise. My only fear is taxes, and the improvement to your house will cost you so much that your biggest challenge will be holding on to it log enough to pass it on. So don't forget that part of the equation. Get an estimate on the new assessment after plans are completed and before construction starts.
Jack January 22, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Yes there will be blockbusting going on because stupid rumorsn and false information is being spread to unsophisticated bungalow people by unscrupolus realtors, brokers and developers. This area will explode in a couple of years because of demand for the beach and the new homes to be built. Look past the immediate emergency to the future. After 911 everyone said real estate was dead in Manhattan and look at it now. The facts presented in the story are faulty and shows a lack of journalistic professionalism by not checking facts and asking followup questions. Some people who owned homes in LB couldnt pay their mortgage or handle a house before the storm so its no surprise they cant handle the situation right now.
Eddie January 22, 2013 at 05:05 PM
I agree with you Jack, but I've done very well with Long Beach property. Remember that when everyone says "sell," it's usually the best time to buy.
Nicole White January 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM
The company you are talking about, Long Beach Rebuild. I have seen the plans and the homes are built to FEMA specs, with quality finishes, including Anderson windows and Hardie board exterior, which is fire-resistant (another West End worry). The entire team is local: The architect and marketing guy are from Long Beach and the contractor from Point Lookout. I'm certainly going to consider using them. Local business building local homes?
BSM January 22, 2013 at 05:50 PM
ROLAND WELLS: I know the actual person whose name you have assumed and I find it distasteful! If you want to post anonymously that is fine, but do not hijack another person's good name.
Carly January 22, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Anna and Mike- it is costing me $45,000 to elevate my home, which is larger than yours. The addtl costs are for the engineering plans to reconfigure your electric, plumbing, venting, AC, etc to be above the elevation height. Then there are the conractor's costs to build your new foundation. The structural engineer will let you know if you need pilings. If you wait two years, FEMA will incur 75% of the cost; the Irene victims received their $$ only last month. I urge you to start researching this on your own bc the LB bldg dept and city council have been completely useless. If your peace of mind and children are your priorities, take out a loan and begin the process.
Carly January 22, 2013 at 06:34 PM
That's what I did.
MariNEWYAWK January 22, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Anyone know where the FEMA Compliance Info for LB can be found- perhaps one can make a decision based on facts and not necessarily the opinions of others. Any information or a link would be helpful.
Just a Resident January 23, 2013 at 08:41 AM
ME can you tell us who the other person is who will raise your house for the $30K? I'm in Westholme and not getting any flyers -- well, none that I know about since I'm not there any longer.
paul.d.spellman January 23, 2013 at 08:43 AM
Just A resident, Does your residence meet the FEMA 50% rule to be even eligible for the ICC grant? I think a house needs to have very considerable damage to even begin to approach 50% damage.
Christine Anne Hirschfeld January 23, 2013 at 09:12 AM
A new Yahoo Group to share resources like the ones in this thread and to give each other support in these awful times http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LBNYAfterSandy/
Just a Resident January 23, 2013 at 09:14 AM
Paul, yes it does. We are just under 60%. Our home was a 1922 cottage built on pilings and it just couldn't stand up to the ocean. It's coming down but how and when is a mystery.
paul.d.spellman January 23, 2013 at 09:29 AM
So that 60% is to do a full rebuild? What percentage of that 60% is your flood insurance agreeing to cover?
Just a Resident January 23, 2013 at 09:48 AM
I would imagine so. I don't think the house would stand the lifting process. I don't know yet what percentage the insurance will cover. However, after the city inspected it they said it had to come into compliance. I just received my first builder's estimate. I guess that will be for my lawyer to battle out. Question about ICC. I didn't think that was part of your flood insurance. I was fairly certain it was a separate state-by-state FEMA program. I now have to hire an architect to do the elevation.
Me January 23, 2013 at 10:04 AM
Just a resident: The company saying they could do it for $30K was called “Jax House Lifting” (I think) they seemed a little fly by night, in my opinion, but could just be expanding into this area of construction. My contractor warned when it comes to people saying they will do it for FEMA grant be careful what you sign. If additional FEMA money comes through later they may be entitled to it if it’s in the contract. MariNEWYAWK: My understanding in the briefest terms is the bottom of the floor joist must be two feet above the base flood elevation and anything under that can only be used as storage and garage with no installed utilities (furnace, hot water, Electric panel) and foundation must have flood vents or a means for water to enter and exit in a flood. I know where I am in WE the BFE is eleven feet but if I recall correctly we are at 7ft elevation so you would need roughly eight feet under the house. Waiting on surveyors report for full details
paul.d.spellman January 23, 2013 at 10:06 AM
JAR, Why did the city do an inspection? They have not inspected anyone I know. Have you submitted a plan to the city detailing the work and costs, if not how does the city know it will meet the 50% rule? Is that first builders estimate over the 50% , for just the damages not including the mitigation or fema compliance.
Just a Resident January 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM
ME, would you mind posting this information in the Yahoo Group so we can have it as a resource? Here's the url http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LBNYAfterSandy/ Paul, we heard that the city was doing a block by block inspection and were told to call 431-1005 to see when we were on the schedule. You can request one if you want. The report from the city is supposed to be helpful in filing claims.
Carly January 23, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Those who believe that their homes should be elevated should do the following: 1) get an elevation survey, 2) request a LB bldg. inspector to come in, 3) if you meet the requirements (50% or more of your home damaged), obtain a letter from the Bldg. dept. attesting to the fact, 4) hire a structural engineer ($250) to determine whether your house is structurally sound, 5) call your insurance carrier who will apply on your behalf for a $30,000 ICC grant if you want to do the work right away. If you can afford to wait two years to lift your house, then the 75% is available from FEMA if the municipality (LB or Nassau) applies on your behalf. That's a whole 'nother story. BTW, the $30G is in addition to whatever your insurance settlement is; $15,000 is paid at the beginning of the work, and the other $15,000 after a certificate of occupancy and a new elevation survey is submitted.
Just a Resident January 23, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Carly - First of all, would you mind posting this to the Yahoo Group so it is accessible to everyone? Here's the url http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LBNYAfterSandy/ Second, which structural engineer did you hire? Mine is a local guy who charged me $500 for a letter. Third, can you please explain more about the 75% after two years? This is new to me. Thank you for this valuable information.
Beachguy January 23, 2013 at 07:25 PM
What concerns me about much of this is the paucity of information and guidance coming from our city fathers. Why hasn't someone in city hall been appointed to become versant in all this and then prepare guidelines for the citizens?
Eddie January 23, 2013 at 08:12 PM
The Building Department should be conversant with this. My experience working with them has always been good. This is certainly their realm.
Beachguy January 23, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Then why can't they prepare an outline of the options explaining it to people? Why don't they have open meetings to explain things and answer questions? I know the answer though. Here it comes. TILB . Repeat TILB.
MariNEWYAWK January 23, 2013 at 08:55 PM
What about oceanfront condos/coops? Units on the first or second floor in particular??
paul.d.spellman January 24, 2013 at 07:47 AM
Problem solved. The Man of Many Names was right, the property is very valuable. So much so that Cuomo wants me to buy your house ( http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-sandy-vics-sell-house-article-1.1246487 ). And after those that take him up on my offer have moved the govt can come back and have me pay for the upkeep of the increased parkland. Now that is a Hazard Mitigation Program. I can see the ads now: For Sale 312 Nebraska Street 30X60 lot, directly adjacent to a "pocket park" that will forever be fallow.
Eddie January 24, 2013 at 08:43 AM
Gee, Paul, I wonder what that would do to the tax bills of those left behind?
paul.d.spellman January 24, 2013 at 09:24 AM
Eddie, I said it above. You, your renters, me and the failing businesses will be responsible for the added upkeep
paul.d.spellman January 24, 2013 at 09:29 AM
And it just dawned on me that this is another great reason for the businesses to push to reopen. Hey look the governor is proposing to further limit our base of customers, oh yipee lets spend money to restore our business for a smaller possible return. What aisle do they keep the matches in anyway....
SurferBilly January 25, 2013 at 09:24 AM
When I saw that link in the Daily News yesterday I almost thought it was a joke! It seemed like a fake story. No such luck. I stood 10 feet away from Cuomo and Jack in November when he told us we will rebuild, now he's telling us that maybe mother nature doesnt think we belong here? what changed in the last 60 days? Not very motivating for the remaining tax base - like Paul says above. And the piece in the NY Times today doesnt add any inspiration - others in our situation are claiming that not only their dwellings are worth less, but also the property they sit on is of lesser value. Maybe our first step should be to ask for re-assesments. What say you now, man of many names?
Just a Resident January 25, 2013 at 02:09 PM
I would be cautious about a reassessment. I think you want to keep your property value as high as possible for purposes of insurance settlements and for 2012 and 2013 tax benefits.
Eddie January 25, 2013 at 04:32 PM
The grievance period for Long Beach City taxes ended on January 15. You'll have to wait until next year's period from January 1 through January 15. You have two assessments, the City one, on which City taxes are based, and the County assessment, which determines county and school taxes. The Republicans have extended the County grievance period through May 1. The Long Beach Democrats have kept their ending on January 15, To successfully show a reduction in value, you should provide comparable sales data from the past six months, or good appraisals of your property. The storm came at the wrong time for assessment challenges. Most of us will have to wait until next year when the sales data is in. Then, shame on anyone who doesn't grieve his taxes. He'll be left paying for everyone who does!

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