Ten months after Superstorm Sandy, people who still haven’t been able to return to their wrecked homes asked New Jersey legislators for help Thursday.
Simone Dannecker, of Union Beach, is fighting her mortgage company for the right to stay in her home. She works 20 hours a week as a bank teller and spends another 20 writing letters, filling out paperwork for seven separate aid programs, and making phone calls.
At a joint state Senate-Assembly hearing on the pace of rebuilding since the Oct. 29 storm, she broke down in tears describing the frustration and hopelessness she feels.
“We are the typical hard-working blue-collar American family who ask for nothing,” she said. “Now they tell me I owe $320,000 on a house that isn’t worth $150,000 right now.
“We are living in a mold-infested neighborhood,” she said. “Do I fight to keep the house I lived in and raised my kids in, or do I walk away? It’s a very emotional thing to deal with this on an everyday basis.
“The state has gotten us wrapped in so much paperwork, it consumes your life. It really does. Not once have I spoken to the same person. You get passed along and passed along.”
Lee Ann Newland, of Neptune, can’t return to her home yet but still has to pay the mortgage and taxes. She and her husband run a music education program for poor children in the Bronx and lost most of their instruments in the storm.
“While working full time as teachers, we have spent the better part of our time on the phone, writing letters and filing appeals,” she said. “Life is not normal.”
Sonia Daley, of Atlantic City, has been unable to return to the apartment she and her extended family rented before the storm. They were split up into three different rentals. She said that the process of seeking an affordable home is daunting.
“Go to this line, go to that line,” she said. “Nobody can give you no answer, nohow. I’m not asking for the government to pay my rent. I just want something where I can pay the rent.”
Environmental groups said the state needs to do more to protect infrastructure like water and sewer plants, to buy out even more flood-prone properties along the coast, and to incorporate long-term rising sea levels into future land-use planning.
“I hate to say it, but we are not stronger than the storm. We never have been, and never will be,” said Mark Mauriello, a former environmental protection commissioner under former governor Jon Corzine. “We have to be smarter.”