Superstorm Sandy, 5 years later — Poll finds lingering dissatisfaction
"The process dragged on for three years."
"We keep waiting for the clawback letters telling us that we need to return all of money ... all of which has been spent on the house."
Even folks who are back in their homes following Superstorm Sandy are dissatisfied with the state's recovery efforts overall.
Since the storm made landfall in New Jersey five years ago, the Monmouth University Polling Institute has kept in touch with a large sample of individuals who were hardest hit. Today, a majority remain displeased, and some are still lost in the process of rebuilding.
Among the 432 participants surveyed in 2013 and every year since, 55 percent said they are dissatisfied with New Jersey's recovery efforts.
"That's down from 67 percent in 2013, a year after the storm, but still that's not far down," said poll director Patrick Murray.
Among those who have been able to move back to their Sandy-damaged homes, 50 percent are satisfied with the state's efforts. That percentage drops to 29 percent among those who've been permanently relocated or are still waiting to move back. About three-quarters of the panel participants have returned to their homes, including 18 percent who had to rebuild from scratch.
Two-thirds applied for assistance through the state's RREM (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation) program, and more than half were approved. Among this group, 28 percent are still in the RREM process — either finishing up construction, in the pre-construction stage, or are unsure where they currently stand.
About 60 percent of those who went through the RREM process experienced significant problems, including 13 percent who report filing a lawsuit, the poll finds.
"The process dragged on for three years with the program constantly losing my paperwork and my husband and I having to take multiple days off to bring copies of papers they already had scanned in," said a Union Beach homeowner in a news release accompanying the poll. "We had several RREM counselors who were never available."
"We have been done and back in the house since November 2014. We have had two different people come for a 'Close-out Inspection,' yet we have heard nothing and my phone calls and emails go unreturned," added a homeowner in Barnegat Township. "The lien is still on our property and we cannot refinance because of that. We keep waiting for the clawback letters telling us that we need to return all the money ... all of which has been spent on the house. The long, silent delay has taken its toll on our health, our emotions and our relationship."
On the positive side, an increasing percentage of Sandy-affected homeowners feel the state's recovery efforts are focused on helping people like them — up from 24 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2017. Still, a majority say it feels like they've been forgotten in the recovery process.
Individuals surveyed by Monmouth were either displaced from their homes for at least a month or sustained at least $8,000 in damage to a primary home.
A report to be released by Monmouth on Thursday will look at the emotional well-being of these hardest-hit residents.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.