Shore homeowners have no place to stay while rebuilding from Sandy

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A year and a half after Superstorm Sandy, an increasing number of homeowners on the Jersey Shore are finally receiving funding to begin construction.

Chuck Appleby’s Seaside Park, N.J. house is roughly 10 feet up in the air, resting on temporary wooden towers. Construction is just beginning on the home’s new, much taller foundation, but Appleby still has a lot of work to do before he can move back into the home.

A year and a half after Superstorm Sandy, an increasing number of homeowners on the Jersey Shore who were approved into state rebuilding grants are in a similar situation. After completing lengthy grant evaluations and inspections, they’re finally receiving the funding to begin construction.  

However, that good news brings a fresh headache: For people unable to live in their homes during rebuilding, they must find a short-term rental — just as the area’s busy summer tourism season gets started.

The Applebys have lived in five different places in the last year and half. Their current rental is up in June, and so the family is already hunting for the next place.

“There’s no rentals around here,” explained Appleby. “The rents go from about $2,000 a month upwards to $2,000 a week for all the seasonal rentals and the housing stock.”

He is getting rental assistance through a state program right now, but it only lasts six months and it’s known for paying bills late, so it’s not popular with landlords.

“We had to tell the landlord, we’re going to be paying the rent because they have to make a check out directly to the landlord,” he said. “It’s not coming to me, it’s going to them, but it’s around four weeks late, which could hurt people on the other end.”

Appleby has pretty much given up on finding a local summer rental and is now considering going to Florida, where it’s the off season, rentals are cheap, and the family has some friends. However, it’s not a perfect solution — his work is here, and he wants to be able to check on the house during construction.

“I’ve been trying to get new housing for six weeks,” said Joe Karcz. His Surf City rental expires at the end of April.

The state just finalized how much Karcz will get for a rebuilding grant, but work isn’t expected to start until the end of June and will take several months.

Karcz has called local real estate brokers, as well as numerous state agencies and charities to try to find housing.  So far, no luck.

“So my choices are either move back into a mold-infested house until they destroy it or maybe live on my neighbor’s boat,” he said.

Even before Sandy, shore communities were low on housing for renters, according to Arnold Cohen, the senior policy coordinator at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. That’s due, in part, to zoning that favors single and two-family homes over apartment buildings.

“The impact of Sandy has been a decrease in the supply of rental housing because some of it was destroyed by the storm, and an increase in demand because many people who are former homeowners are looking for a place to rent while their home is being repaired,” Cohen said, adding that the crunch is especially acute in Ocean and Monmouth  counties.

Long term, Cohen said, the state needs to build more affordable rental units. But, short term, he said, it could tweak its current plans for a new wave of federal rebuilding funds to put more money into grant programs for renters. Instead of six months of rental assistance, he said, they might need vouchers for two years.

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