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For Brick Residents, A Post-Sandy Primer

Grim realities on flood insurance explained at 'Information Fair'

There was no mincing of words: recovering from Sandy will be difficult, and a decision on federal flood insurance made months before the storm struck will make things even harder.

Brick residents got the low-down on the difficult decisions that loom in the future for many families following Sandy - brought on mainly by the impending flood insurance hurdle that could cripple already-strained finances for many - at a series of Sandy Information Fairs held at Brick Township High School Saturday morning.

Brick is the first town in New Jersey to offer such information sessions, said Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis.

The township's administration brought together local officials with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) for the program, which began with an overall presentation, then broke down into one-on-one sessions in classrooms.

The result was a packed Brick Township High School auditorium for four morning presentations.

Before the gloom and doom, there was a bright side: a strong community, the mayor said.

"We had roving bands of young people around after the storm, but they weren't looting houses, they were helping their friends and neighbors," said Acropolis.

Most of the good news stopped there, however.

"It is not going to be an easy road," Acropolis said, estimating his own flood insurance bill will rise to between $4,000 and $5,000 per year from $1,600 - even after he raises his house. "It's not going to be a short road, either."

Forget the fiscal cliff. Around here, it's the insurance cliff over which many residents think they will tumble.

Sandy or Not, It Was Coming

Though brought into the public discourse by Sandy, the law that brought the potential for flood insurance rates - required by those who have mortgages on homes in flood zones - to skyrocket to five-figure annual bills dates back to the summer.

Remember that debate on whether to extend Stafford student loan programs? That measure was attached to a transportation bill after a bipartisan compromise. But also attached to that bill - which was eventually signed into law by President Barack Obama - was the decision to end subsidies to the National Flood Insurance Program.

That means for residents who do not raise their homes to the elevation required under the base flood elevation standard for their lot, annual flood insurance rates may skyrocket to levels exceeding $20,000 even for the most modest of homes.

"I asked FEMA about this, and their answer was, 'there are going to be some very difficult decisions to make,'" said Acropolis.

Residents can view whether they are in a flood zone, and what their elevation requirement may be, online.

FEMA has released its advisory base flood elevation maps, which are expected to be adopted by the Brick council as rebuilding begins.

But for residents whose homes in flood zones are still standing - damaged or not - leaving them at ground level will not be an option unless they are willing to contend with the increased flood insurance premiums, which will be unaffordable for the vast majority of homeowners.

Residents in flood zones are divided into 'A' and 'V' zones. Both zones require homes to be raised, however those in 'V,' or "velocity" zones, must have special piling foundations installed as well. In other words, a home in a 'V' zone cannot simply be raised on cinderblocks.

FEMA decided to release its advisory maps to the public since many people are now facing the task of rebuilding after Sandy. But even if the storm had never hit New Jersey, the new maps - as well as the end of federal subsidies for flood insurance - would have come to fruition. In fact, specific storms such as Sandy are not necessarily taken into account when the maps are created, said Ryan Pietrimeli, of FEMA.

The new maps just being released were the result of an 18 month-long process.

"Hurricane Sandy itself wasn't actually included in the analysis we did to come up with the advisories," said Pietrimeli. "There were enough storm events similar to Sandy where we didn't have to re-do the analysis."

Sandy ranged from a 10-year storm to a 300-year storm depending on which town is being discussed, and the maps mainly come from hydrology and topography studies, Pietrimeli said.

A Catch 22 for Residents

The "tough decisions" FEMA representatives warned Acropolis about will doubtlessly hit home for many Brick families, as well as families throughout Ocean County.

"Our houses are not worth what they once were," said Acropolis.

If one's home was damaged beyond 50 percent, as calculated by the municipality, and the homeowner had flood insurance, he or she may qualify for what is known as an Increased Cost of Compliance, or ICC, grant.

The $30,000 grant is specifically aimed at allowing homeowners to raise their homes to comply with the new maps, which will be released in their final form this summer.

"It's probably not going to be enough to get you all the way there, but it's a start," said Pietrimeli.

Some houses, however, may not be able to be raised. And if they were not damaged to more than 50 percent of their improvement value during Sandy, they will not qualify for the ICC grant. In some cases, Acropolis said, raising a house may not be worth it, since homeowners could find themselves underwater financially between the cost of raising their home and their mortgage.

"Galveston, Texas lost 16 percent of its population," said Acropolis, after new flood maps were issued there. "That is going to be the case for some people who just don't have the money. It is not going to be an easy road."

"If your house is less than $150,000, it may not be save-able if you're in a 'V' zone."

"If you're on a slab, it really is not cost-effective for you to raise that house," Acropolis added. "You could do it, sure, but it would cost you $60,000 or $70,000 to raise a ranch."

The Small Business Administration is willing to lend homeowners whose homes were damaged $200,000 at a very low interest rate, a representative from that agency said.

Acropolis said the township will apply for hazard mitigation funds - grants distributed to communities by the federal government that can be turned over to residents in need. However that funding is two to three years away.

"The pot of funding that is available is going to be much smaller than the need to access that pot," said Pietrimeli.

Township officials said for homeowners who can raise their homes, zoning ordinances will be amended to compensate for the extra required height.

For now, there are no simple answers and no silver bullet solutions, officials agreed.

One thing for sure is that Brick will eventually look significantly different, both on the mainland as well as the barrier island.

"If anyone has been down to the Outer Banks or Corolla [N.C.], that is how Brick Township is going to look in five to 10 years," said Acropolis.

Gabriella Ferguson January 17, 2013 at 02:04 PM
We understand that changes need to be made, but why not gradually? We live in the Baywood section of Brick and FEMA wants to make us a V zone! That says that we get 3 to 6 foot waves! Where and when? Our house is on a lagoon protected. Raise our house, yes, but to devalue our homes, no!
Jaime B January 17, 2013 at 02:48 PM
I live in the Baywood section of Brick. Our neighborhood flooded, and it came all the way up to our subfloor, which sits at 5'1" above the ground elevation. So, in theory, the flooding was 5' on our block. The whole reason why our neighborhood flooded was due to the breaches by Mantoloking, which would have been prevented if only we had some protection through dunes/beach replenishment. If only the homeowners would have signed the easements to allow for the project to be performed, we would not have had the devastation in our neighborhood. Oh, and they said the new ABFE would have been 9' and the data was collected prior to Sandy. So, tell me how the data was collected and how it was determined that a new level of 9 feet would be mandatory when this was a once in 100, or even 500, year storm and we had flooding of 5 feet without having the dune/beach replenishment protection? Sounds like a true shakedown to me, and yes - all because FEMA is in the red. That is why they passed the bill in July 2012 so they could charge unsuspecting homeowners insane premiums. What a shame...losing faith in anyone and everyone.
old school January 17, 2013 at 04:19 PM
The V zone is the issue here, the BFE should have been raised long ago, as much as it was I'm not convinced. The new ABFE's including zone changes can be challenged, however your challenged has to be backed and supported by scientific and technical data. OK so a first step is to know how FEMA came to the determination of where the new BFE should be for both the 100 and 500 year storm. Also, what data was used to determine that a home on a lagoon should now be considered a V zone. My feeling from looking over the entire state's remapping is that topographical data drove both the BFE and the zone change to a V zone. Is there technical data that supports the potential for wave damage to someone living on a lagoon? I have been looking for it but have not been able to find it. Towns on the water all over the state are in the same situation. Why are we not acting as a group in addressing this? Lets face it, the NFIP is broken in a number of ways, just because it has not been run properly the knee jerk reaction is to make sweeping changes that have as much a catastrophic affect on homeowners as did the storm? There must be some intelligent people out there that have some knowledge and experience in this? A licensed Surveyor or Hydrolic Engineer perhaps?
Jaime B January 17, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Well, I don't know how we are going to be able to afford to live here anymore if this is going to be the rule. If they were looking for a shakedown to drum up funds, how will they get paid when homeowners will be forced to walk away, and the house is foreclosed on? No one gets paid then, and no one would want to even live here if they had to pay that much extra a month in a flood insurance premium. In order to make it affordable, you would have to elevate the houses. It won't be on our backs...that's for sure, if I am going to be charged a minimum of $5k per year for flood insurance WITH the elevation. $5k x 28 years (what is left on our mortgage) = $140k. $140k + my mortgage + cost to elevate = highway robbery for a modest ranch like this. You can take that money and get more house/land out of the flood zone (which is a moving target, it seems), or out of state where taxes are lower and you do not need a permit to go to the bathroom. It would make sense for us to walk away, financially, if these are the new mandates and this is the projected outcome. I cannot imagine that we are the only ones in this same situation...THIS IS EXTORTION.
Missing Brick January 17, 2013 at 04:30 PM
My home is 7'6" according to last elevation certificate and somehow I don't see where the new numbers of 9'/11' come from either. My question is, since I was one of the higher homes in the community...how are the very few companies that raise homes going to deal with now THOUSANDS of homes that will fall below the new flood maps. The old number was 6' for my house and the builder (previous owners) went a foot and a half above that. Even with the seas rising 1" per year (debatable, but lets assume that) the new numbers seem out of line. The V rating also seems strange to me as even in Sandy we really did not see high velocity waves...just rising sea surge. Anyway, I am still embittered that not only did FEMA not give me a cent...and I'm waiting on even a first check from my Flood Insurance...but now they may require me to raise my home for many tens of thousands of dollars and without a hint on where the people are who can accomplish this for so many homes! And they are going to RAISE our taxes? lol My house is worth 1/4 what it was at best. I find it funny that they also give a 2 year window to accomplish the work if you did qualify for a 30k ICC grant. The chance of all who need to raise their homes being able to do this in 2 year is ZERO. What a dog pile this is going to be! While I have loved my two years in Brick...I really am wondering if I need to just take my losses and leave. Seems like fighting a losing battle
old school January 17, 2013 at 04:44 PM
Jaime, sad to say but there are already realtors who have folks lined up to buy your house and others. level it and build a home on pilings and they wont be paying $5K for flood insurance. They know they will have leverage in the buy because most cant afford the investment now to make these changes. The same people bought the million dollar shacks on the water for a 50% discount when the bottom fell out. cant guarantee how we will end up with the FEMA changes but I can guarantee that water front property will remain a premium and there will be someone waiting to buy it once the opportunity fits their financial position. Lets hope the V zone gets successfully challenged and our cost to raise the house becomes more affordable. I love living on the water, worked 45 years to get to a place where I could afford it and not giving up just yet. Good luck to us all.
Freetobeyouandme January 17, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Current claims of insured homeowners should be settled before there is any talk of these major changes. If the houses are raised and/or the 200k coverage is paid for, what guarantee is being offered by the flood insurance program that the funds will be available to pay the insureds' claims from the next storm they are protecting themselves from? Did insurance premiums from Northeast insured homeowners fund payments to the uninsured of Gulf Coast without keeping enough on reserve to meet the fiduciary obligations made when those premiums were received by the insurers? There are changes needed but they not from the insured homeowners!
yeah, okay January 17, 2013 at 05:43 PM
I received a newsletter from my insurance broker (he finds policies for those in high risk areas). The letter stated that even for those who are not in the new zoned areas and haven't had any damage, we should expect to see changes. The first being higher deductibles and also higher rates. The point I’m trying to make is to people like ap. In order to cover the damage done to your home or others in the area, we all end up paying for it.
Spooner January 17, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Boy-O-Boy...a lot of misinformation out here regarding Sandy and FEMA. Take the time and go to the FEMA site and get your questions answered. As for another source, read the Biggert-Waters Flood Act. Both have information that people on here are writing about...
Barbara Pearson January 17, 2013 at 06:49 PM
What is town engineer e mail? I would like to forward something from Toms River engineer
Freetobeyouandme January 17, 2013 at 07:02 PM
Thank you for the link> From smack in the middle of the stated reasons for the Reform: "Raise $3 billion in revenue to help pay down the outstanding Treasury loan for the 2005 storm season, which shattered all records for hurricanes;"
Mconwell January 18, 2013 at 03:20 AM
Buy a house with your own money. Don't get insurance if you don't think you need it. Enjoy living on the beach.
clamdigger January 18, 2013 at 03:38 AM
your house currently sits 7'6" above grade and since you are waiting on an insurance check apparently you sustained some type of damage and you are still questioning the need to raise your house? what are you putting in an insurance claim for? flood/water damage?
clamdigger January 18, 2013 at 03:40 AM
"there are already realtors who have folks lined up to buy your house and others. level it and build a home on pilings and they wont be paying $5K for flood insurance. They know they will have leverage in the buy because most cant afford the investment now to make these changes." this has been my thought for several weeks now.
hard working sucker January 18, 2013 at 03:52 AM
i have an idea. lets just not do anything they tell us to do. problem solved. then maybe we will be heard. my coping mechanism is to pretend that fema, new taxes, flodd insurance through the roof,etc. don't exist. they can't take everything away from us. let's just not do what they tell us we have to do. maybe their egos will burst and realize that we resent, not respect, them and most of all don't trust them!
hard working sucker January 18, 2013 at 04:14 AM
sorry, but i have one more thought.. we, as the working middle class are sh*t on by the ones we work for, and then we are sh*t on by the ones who supposedly work for us. we're getting it from both sides! we really need to take a stand...after all, our employers really do need us (but they won't admit it), and the people who supposedly work for us, (local, state, federal) really do need us too (but they won't admit it either) let's remind all of them how much they really do need us! now i'll leave everyone alone. thanks for listening.
Scott Pezarras January 18, 2013 at 01:47 PM
Missing Brick You should attend one of the house raising seminars being co-sponsored by the Twp in the schools. The schedule is on our website and facebook page. No registration is required. The presenter has a lot of experience in this industry, and was involved down south during Katrina. Good Luck
Dolores Calicchio January 18, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Go on this website and read this artical is says it all. Basically the government does not want Americans to live on the water anymore. If you do they are making it very difficult to do it. http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2012/12/16/flood-insurance-reform-act-could-promote-better-climate-preparedness/
Missing Brick January 18, 2013 at 05:41 PM
I have already received a quote on raising my house. It far exceeds the flood claim I'm making and this is the first time a claim has been made on my house in it's 33 year history. For the raising to be "worth it" I'd have to have 3 more floods like Sandy. When talking about tens of thousands of dollars and possible damage to my home and months of not being able to live there...well, I don't like those odds. In addition, it seems to me if this requirement is instituted by FEMA, then everyone effected should be eligible for the 30k ICC grant. That won't cover even half the procedure, but it sure beats what FEMA offered me so far. (zero) Seems to me that FEMA and insurance were supposed to help...but in fact it may end up forcing me out of my home! Why did I pay those premiums those years nothing happened and didn't my lifetime of tax paying earn me some right to FEMA help instead of only making demands that I spend more during a time of financial crisis?
Dolores Calicchio January 18, 2013 at 06:23 PM
I agree with Jaime. Our home is 66 years old and has never flooded until Sandy. We sit on the Meteconk, we are 2 miles away from the ocean. We learned at the Brick Township meeting we were changed from an AE zone ro a V zone. I don't think this is accurate. Point Pleasant is fighting this. Why is our Township not pushing back on this with FEMA? In addition, all of us who thought we would be moving back into our homes, are now looking at a longer period (estimates of 18 months). There are only 3 firms in the State that raise homes. I think 18 months is conservative. We should try to go to the township meetings that Scott has recommended. I mentioned that I have already sent letters to the Mayor, the Governor, Senators, FEMA Leadership. I have not heard from one of them. However, I think I was one of the first to send letters last weekend. All of you should do the same in addition to going to our township meetings.
Dolores Calicchio January 18, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Our financial planner met with some of his attorneys and that is waht we were told. They did not think this was possible as it sounds pretty rediculous and thought we misunderstood. Our Insurance ajuster also told us this would be crazy. We thought maybe there is some hope only to continue on this emotional roller coaster to learn the only grandfathering is 2 years. So sorry we were misinformed and it was confirmed we all have to raise our homes. We are seriously considering walking. Raising our home would be ludicrous because it is a 66 year old colonial, putting it on pillings would be insane. We have invested a lot of money to fix it up when we purchased it. So now we would have to knock it down and then rebuild. Our mortage is large, we pay 25K in property taxes which were raised 1800 last year (thanks to those who voted in the raise) and now we will be paying large insurance premiums. The raising of our home, the costs, the time it will take to live back in our house, it is not financailly or morally possible. What a mess! I talked to a peer of mine who I work with who handles our Government Relations. He is going to see if he can put me in touch with some of our legislators. He could not believe this either. However, at this point I am not very hopeful that the zoning will get changed.
clamdigger January 19, 2013 at 01:50 PM
tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding create jobs. maybe not on a regular basis but mother nature does have a way of keeping people busy rebuilding along with the research and development of fighting her and protecting residents.
clamdigger January 19, 2013 at 02:10 PM
that's a great way of putting it. people know the potential risks of owning a home on the water. if a person insists on buying or building a home in a hazardous location, then they should assume all responsibility for their actions and risk they take.
Mike January 19, 2013 at 09:33 PM
hard working sucker; Yes, FEMA & Obama do have a clue...they just don't care. Obama got your votes...you will probably never see him again.
Dolores Calicchio January 23, 2013 at 07:16 PM
We have explored all our options, gone to township meetings, including the seminar. We are overwhelmed with a losing financial proposition and will be taking a different course of action. It is a hard reality that your home is a losing business and it does not make any more sense to throw more money at a lost investment. It comes down to what is the best decision out of the dismal ones at this point. We were going along just fine until the new flood maps and the requirements to raise your home. The change to a "v" zone is just too costly, and we would be out of our home with our children for a long time. We also have no place to put the home once it is lifted from the foundation. Tack the financial loss and the inconvenience of not being able to live in your home for a much longer time frame, and the decision is made for us. We are forced into a short sale. If you know anyone who is looking to buy a home "as is" on a nice parcel of property on the Meteconk, let me know. They will certainly be getting a bargain off of our misfortune. Too bad an agency and government body that is supposed to help during a flood, just forced us out of our home. Thank you FEMA!
shorecorruption January 25, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Leave every thing as it is.Wait it out.Why wast time and more money on a place you cannot afford to move back to.Raise the house $90,000,flood insurance $5,000 to $9,000.Let's see what the Gov does with the $30 billion
Dolores Calicchio January 28, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Hi Joseph, On the letters I sent and the newstations I wrote to, I have heard nothing. We are forgotten I am sorry to say.
M Klingener January 29, 2013 at 01:48 AM
I've been reading all of the heart felt stories and I to am piss off. I built two years ago on pilings and block foundation and now they want to change to a V zone. I say don't put up with this. We all have to start writing letters to all our representatives, Congressmen, Senators, Governor. Tell them your stories and the heart break your suffering. I'm not going down with out a fight. I started my letter campaign and if they don't work for us then let them know will vote the bastards out.
Smith February 15, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Hey, lot of interesting comments. I'm from Breezy Point and and am also concerned the spike in rates and lack of subsidies will destroy our community. The biggest catastrophe we face now is not storm surge, but the raising of rates by the National Flood Insurance Program. Does anyone know if the grandfathering provisions for post FIRM primary homeowners was eliminated by the Biggert Waters Act? Uncertain of this and it would be worth some research.
John Zingis June 17, 2013 at 06:24 PM
It's really very simple. It's ALL about the banks covering their asses and they have their greedy hands in the pockets of our Congressman (who we as stupid goats on a farm continue to re-elect) bless and protect the money. Guys and Gals, it's simple, "Greed is good" according to that movie Wall Street and it's playing out here. What I would be MORE worried about is the oceanfront homeowners who won't sign the access agreements so we may build the dunes to as they should be> Wake up and take the time to write to your reps and tell them to condem those properties, move on with dune reconstruction and let's dump the greedy Congressman in Washington (regardless of Dem or Publicans).

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