First grants to elevate Jersey Shore homes awarded

 The home on the left, in Tuckerton, N.J., emerged from Superstorm Sandy intact because it was elevated. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

The home on the left, in Tuckerton, N.J., emerged from Superstorm Sandy intact because it was elevated. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Nearly a year and a half after Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey has announced the first grants from a program that helps homeowners afford to elevate their homes.

 Applications for New Jersey’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program closed in September, but the state made its first 26 awards just last week. The grants offer homeowners up to $30,000 toward the cost of lifting their home to meet state and federal standards.

Why did it take seven months to start approving awards?

The program prioritizes applications based on “elevation need” – how many feet the home needs to be lifted – and those calculations took a lot of time and data, said Scott Brubaker, the program manager for HMGP at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“We could have required applicants to go out and purchase an elevation certificate for $600 as part of the application process,” he explained. “But 50 percent of applicants would have spent that money and then not gotten invited to participate in the program anyway. So we decided to do much of the work for the applications.”

The program also has been shuffled among different state agencies. It originally fell under the Department of Community Affairs, the agency tasked with managing most Sandy grants.

It was moved to the DEP in December, Brubaker said, because his agency could devote more staff, and it has more experience working with FEMA, which funds these grants.

An additional 530 applications are currently pending with FEMA. Once approved, homeowners have 90 days to decide whether to accept the grants. That window is meant to give recipients time to compare their HMGP award with any possible funding through the state’s Reconstruction Rehabilitation Elevation and Mitigation Program (RREM), which offers grants of up to $150,000. Homeowners are not permitted to accept both grants

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