In Brick, Fear Over Rebuilding Costs Follows Flood Map Adoption
Mayor: block grants, hazard mitigation grants could eventually come, but announcement won't hasten rebuilding effort
Governor Chris Christie's announcement that the state would adopt advisory flood maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help in the quest for federal aid to help Brick residents rebuild, though the prospect of hastening the overall rebuilding process may not come to fruition, Brick's mayor said.
Following Christie's announcement last week that the state would adopt proposed maps that mean tough elevation and foundation regulations for coastal residents whose homes are in flood zones, trepidation about five-figure house raising bills began to boil over among locals.
Those who have mortgages are required to carry flood insurance, and flood insurance premiums could increase to as much as $30,000 per year, even for a modest house, if a home is not elevated under the new requirements – and outfitted with special piling foundations if they are located in velocity, or 'V' zones.
The move to adopt the advisory maps instead of waiting for them to become finalized, the governor said, was to help spur rebuilding, though some residents whose homes were minimally damaged – and, thus, ineligible for $30,000 grants to help with house raising – saw the move as a financial blow that could cost them their homes as flood insurance rates will rise before grant money becomes available.
The reality of the ramifications of adopting of the maps could lie somewhere in the middle.
"If I lived in a 'V' zone that was way up in a lagoon or not on the open water, I personally would wait until August or September until the new maps out," said Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis.
The difference between residing in an 'A' versus 'V' flood zone under the new maps has to do with strict foundational requirements: a piling foundation is required in 'V' zones while traditional cinder block or cement foundations are acceptable in 'A' zones, though elevation requirements must be met in both.
Acropolis said the Brick Township council will still have to adopt the new requirements for the township to be eligible for its share of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding as well as Hazard Mitigation Grant (HMG) funding, both of which can filter down to individual residents to allow them to raise their homes.
That's where Christie's announcement could end up benefiting both year-round and part-time residents in Brick.
"The biggest takeaway I got from that speech was that the governor was very adamant on CDBG money coming, and sooner than later," said Acropolis. "Instead of two years from now, it could come six to nine months from now."
On Monday night, Congress approved a $50 billion Sandy aid bill, which will fund both grant programs.
Acropolis said year-round residents will be eligible for the CDBG funding while all residents will be eligible for HMG funding.
But despite the prospect of financial assistance, which will be available to a wide swath of people, rebuilding cannot commence for many until the funding is actually in hand. Acropolis said those who raise their homes before grant money comes in will not be eligible for reimbursement since they already paid for their homes to be raised on their own.
"If it's a primary residence, the CDBG money will come out and that will be able to help them," said Acropolis. "But they're not going to give everybody in Brick $50,000."
"I still think this is a money grab by the federal government for a flood insurance plan that is upside down by billion of dollars."
Some details of the rebuilding process, as well as the grant funding, are beginning to emerge.
When grant funding does arrive, it will not be township officials who will have the say as to which residents or which neighborhoods receive the money first. That will most likely be determined, Acropolis said, by volunteer committees of local residents organized by FEMA.
It was not clear how those volunteers would be chosen or who would officially appoint them.
Acropolis said he favored enacting a volunteer rebuilding advisory committee to work on those issues to get ahead of the game.
But the actual rebuilding process will be measured in years once it starts.
Aside from many residents simply not having the money to rebuild, many will want to wait in order to be eligible for grant funding, and if one's home was damaged 51 percent or more, building permits cannot be issued for repairs until the home complies with the new height and foundation requirements. That will leave many residents in a catch 22 situation, waiting until the FEMA maps potentially change, or until grant money becomes available.
Neither will happen overnight.
"If someone doesn't have the money to raise their house now, they have to wait for the hazard mitigation grant or the CDBG," said Acropolis.
For those who are ready to rebuild or repair their homes, however, there was some relief from state Coastal Area Facilities Review Act laws – an additional state permit requirement in coastal areas.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has said that if one's home is being reconstructed in the same footprint without any expansion, there is an exemption available. Likewise, an exemption applies to homes that are being raised, as long as they are not being enlarged and do not involve changing or grading a beach dune.
Criticism of Christie has mainly zeroed in on the administration's adoption of the maps instead of fighting them. Many residents have said the maps are unfair, and include unreasonable height requirements, and place residents in 'V' zones when they do not actually live on the water and are not exposed to pounding waves.
"The governor made no mention of challenging the zones," said Ron Jampel, a Brick resident from the township's Shore Acres who has teamed up with other local residents, including those from Lavallette and Point Pleasant Beach, in a grass-roots campaign to challenge the maps.
The group, called "Save Our Communities," has amassed a list of about 5,000 people through an e-mail list. It started, Jampel said, as an effort among Shore Acres residents to get together on quotes from house raising companies. But it has expanded into a wider effort to draw political attention to the effects of the map crisis on local families and communities.
"We have attempted to contact Governor Christie through calls, faxes and emails so we can better explain the shortfalls in the $60.4 billion bill and more recently to let him know why his executive order was very short sided," said Jampel, in an e-mail. "In fact, the executive order will cause seniors and middle class families to become homeless."
"The misdesignation of most of Brick and a significant amount of other waterfront communities ... as a 'V' zone from 'A' will unnecessarily cause tremendous financial harm to residents of those areas," he added.
Those designations could still change, despite the state having adopted them.
The advisory maps will not be finalized until sometime this summer, and areas could be redesignated in between now and then. There will also be a public comment period and, presumably, political wrangling before final adoption.
Then, flood insurance rates will begin to rise for those who have not raised their homes, eventually getting to the full, unsubsidized rate, which will be phased in after four years.
"There are a lot of people who are going to be hurt, not only financially but emotionally and psychologically," said Acropolis.
Editor's note: Ron Jampel can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.