N.J. mobile home owners grapple with challenges left by Sandy

The tiles in Patricia Ott’s bathroom have just started falling off the wall. 

“I was standing in the tub taking a shower and one of them popped off,” she said. She said it’s because there’s still so much moisture in her trailer home’s walls. 

The money she received from FEMA, about $1,073, went entirely towards fixing her leaking roof, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. Because of a problem with her application, she was only able to make the repairs about two weeks ago. 

“It hasn’t rained yet,” she said. “So, we’re waiting for the rain.”

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Ott lives in Cedar Springs Mobile Home Community in Cape May Courthouse. The swamps on the back bay are easy to see from nearly anywhere in the park. In some areas, that view includes sewage welling up from the ground. 

In the 10 months since the storm, Cedar Springs residents have struggled to get their homes in order. While some have received FEMA aid, it’s often not enough for the massive repairs needed, let alone to relocate somewhere farther away from the water. 

Most residents live on a low or fixed income, which is not enough for them to afford homeowners’ or flood insurance. That lack of coverage makes them ineligible for other types of aid, including additional FEMA disaster relief funds. 

More disaster relief funds were recently made available by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The federally funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation, or RREM, program can offer up to $150,000 to eligible homeowners. However, even though Cape May County is one of the nine counties included in the program, applicants are still required to be insured. 

Ott said that because the park is so close to the water, flood insurance premiums are far too high for her or any of her neighbors to afford.

“And it’s hard to get homeowners’ insurance,” she added. “I had homeowners’, but I couldn’t afford the $500 a year. So I let it drop.”

Many aid programs require proof of an insurance policy to make sure homeowners do not take a calculated risk to save money, knowing they can fall back on help from the government. The situation for Ott and others is complicated since they own their trailers, but not the land underneath. 

The owner of Cedar Springs, Thomas Kapp, could not be reached for comment. 

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