Waiting to go home: Resident lives in camper in driveway while waiting for Sandy funds to rebuild

Lori Robinson stands in front of the camper she’s been living in for the past two years in her driveway. Her friend Jeff Miller, who lives next door, stands with her. Miller is still out of his home too, following extensive damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Lori Robinson stands in front of the camper she’s been living in for the past two years in her driveway. Her friend Jeff Miller, who lives next door, stands with her. Miller is still out of his home too, following extensive damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series about Milford shoreline residents still waiting for government funds to rebuild their homes after Storm Sandy. To read the first in the series, click here.

Lori Robinson has been living in a camper in her driveway for two years, ever since Superstorm Sandy hit her beach area neighborhood.

She’s in the paperwork stage of the process of rebuilding her home, so that’s good news, but the past two years haven’t been exactly fun. There’s been lots of paperwork as she’s applied for government funds to help rebuild, and there’s been a lot of waiting and returning with plans to city offices to get approvals.

Still, this shoreline resident tries to put on a brave face: Her sense of humor, clearly evident in the pink flamingos she decorated her camper with last Christmas, has helped. But still, even a good sense of humor has its limits.

Robinson’s home was slammed by Irene before Sandy. She’d finished a $10,000 kitchen remodel and other renovations that gave her the house she’d always wanted when Sandy hit and wiped all that work away.

She was home when Sandy sent about six feet of water rushing into her house: She was camped out in an upper level with friends. They knew the storm was coming, but they didn’t expect what they got. Much of the main living area of the house was wrecked, and during the storm Robinson had to descend to the lower level, wearing a pair of goggles, and practically swim to her macaw and rescue the bird from the rising tide.

With more than 65% of her house damaged by the two storms, Robinson had to elevate or rebuild. She chose to rebuild, “to start from scratch.”

With limited funds, especially following the Irene fixes, Robinson, who works for the city’s sanitation department, began applying for funding. She said she will be the first in Milford to rebuild using Sandy government funds, and she attributes that to her tenacity at filling out all the forms required to get the work going.

She is expecting $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds, flood insurance money plus another $30,000 in government money, which she said will get her nearly to the $250,000 she was told it will cost to rebuild.

Last week contractors visited, beginning the latest step in an ongoing process to get the rebuild going. A bid still has to be approved, and then the winning bidder will have to secure the permits to get the work done.

She’s not exactly sure when she’ll be able to move out of her camper and back into a house. But she’s hopeful.

Living in a camper for two years was really the most logical option for the Milford woman, partly because she has two dogs.

“Where are you supposed to go if you have pets?” she said.

It’s cozy, yet very cramped, and it’s sort of like camping on a daily basis, Robinson said. She showers at a neighbor’s house, and has to fill a container with water to do some of her household chores.

“This is the way I’ve been living for two years. It’s been frustrating, to say the least,” she said.

Catholic Charities, the Red Cross and United Way “have been wonderful through all this,” she said. “They really have.”

Agencies like those have made the situation less onerous, but still, Robinson jokes that if the process doesn’t start moving a little more quickly, residents may be looking at the next Doris Gagnon.

The late Doris Gagnon lived in a ramshackle trailer for years at Silver Sands beach in protest of the government taking the land to build a state park. Robinson remembers Gagnon fondly, and says she sees similarities between the way Doris lived and the way she’s living now.


And then there’s Christa

If living in a camper sounds bad, Christa Kelly of Milford may be able to beat that: She and her teenage children are living in the lower level of her ex-husband’s house, and she’s not sure when she’ll be able to go home.

Kelly has been out of her house since Irene — about three years.

She’s paying some rental money to live in her ex-husband’s house in Devon, and still paying a mortgage and insurance on her home on the other side of town in the Point Beach neighborhood.

For a single mom who earns $38,000 a year working full time, that’s no easy feat. She also spends a lot of time driving back and forth to the other side of town, for school and other activities her children are involved in.

She has to have her home elevated, and while she may secure funds for that, she isn’t sure where the money will come from to fix the interior. She’s been approved for a block grant, but said, “It’s start, stop, start, stop,” and she doesn’t know where the process is right now.

There have been framing issues, and she’s being sued by a company that started doing repairs after the house was hit by Irene.

“Life is like a sit-com,” she said. “I’ve had furniture donated but no house to put it in. It’s ridiculous. Who’d have thought I’d be paying for a house I couldn’t live in for three years?

“My kids’ handprints are on the foundation, and now someone else may get the house if I can’t get back in,” she added, fighting back tears.

On top of it all, she said she’s gotten calls from the health department complaining about the condition of her Point Beach home.


Waiting for help

These are just two of the stories that can be found along the shoreline among people waiting for federal dollars to help them rebuild and fix their storm-damaged homes. Bill Richards, Milford’s deputy director of emergency management, agrees the process is complicated for residents and says there are several Catch 22s that leave people especially frustrated.

For example, people who got insurance money to repair the inside of their homes could not use the money for elevation, nor could they use it for interior repairs until the house was elevated. If there is a mortgage on the property, the mortgage holder has held the insurance money in escrow until the house is elevated.

There are three sources of funding for Sandy victims to help with elevation, Richards explained. The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, a state program funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program, which Richards said takes the longest. There are 27 pending elevations under that program.

Next, there is a nationwide FEMA program, the Flood Mitigation Assistance program, and there are seven homes pending elevation under that program.

There is also Hazard Mitigation Grant Program money available for home acquisitions, to purchase homes that are beyond repair. There are four homes pending acquisition under this program. The city has to approve the acquisition, Richards said, and then the homeowner will get 75% of the value of the home from FEMA. “The property then has to remain as open space forever,” Richards said.

Finally, for Storm Sandy victims, there are Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief funds, which are administered through the Connecticut Department of Housing. There are 70 rehabilitation and/or elevations pending under that program.

“That’s the money we should see first,” Richards said.

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  • Dr. Richmann

    Good that we remember Doris:
    “The late Doris Gagnon lived in a ramshackle trailer for years at Silver Sands beach in protest of the government taking the land to build a state park. Robinson remembers Gagnon fondly, and says she sees similarities between the way Doris lived and the way she’s living now.”
    She is part of Milford history that should be passed down to future generations.
    The government took her house on Remington St. and knocked it down with a wrecking ball when she was at work. They knew she would leave work as soon as she heard of it, so the cops set her up by waiting near a stop sign. They claimed she went through the stop sign and arrested her so she wouldn’t stop their smashing of her home. The government took all of those houses away from them.
    And guess what folks. They wanted to take ALL the houses right down to Surf Avenue! But my parents and others fought them and prevailed. and their ‘re-development’ motto was a bunch of lies and empty promises that they never delivered on. So they took all these people’s houses, their only homes and knocked down hundreds and hundred’s of homes……for what?????????
    For some crappy Silver Sands State Park that’s the joke of Connecticut.
    I would take the old East Broadway and the parking lot next to the beach any day over the current parking lot that’s so far away it seems like its in another state.
    So the lesson here for our young folks is…Shame on the government!
    Don’t trust the government! Look at the sham job they gave to Doris Gagnon and all the other hundreds of people who use to live in that area.
    Doris Gagnon was a legend in our time. A true hero!
    I wish the paper would do a story about Doris.

    • Dr. Richmann

      Here’s some info from a book: “Sand In Our Shoes” – from the Walnut Beach – Myrtle Beach Historical Association.
      Doris Gagnon is mentioned on page 14.
      But on the inside cover it says that “redevelopment destroyed the community and its people were scattered thought Milford and surrounding towns.”
      ‘More than 33 Streets, 300 homes and 100 businesses – gone.”
      This book was published in 2004
      ISBN 0-9669159-4-1
      Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    • Kristen

      Things never change. My mother lives in Bayview and posted signs on her house stating that she doesn’t recommend a remodeling company. The company sued her. The company sued me. The company has sued 4 people I know of for defamation and just had one of the cases thrown out.

      Then the City of Milford joined in. The City of Milford has been suing her for the past 2 1/2 years trying to force her to remove the signs. When she refused, they alleged zoning violations and ordered her to vacate her house. For alleged zoning violations. You can’t make this stuff up. The alleged violations were from permits pulled in 2003 and 2004 and they sued her in 2011. Interesting timing.

      As I understand it, a judge ordered the city to list what they needed in order to issue a CO. She complied with every item on the list. Now they’re back, citing landscape work she had done 9 years ago and refusing to issue a CO based on they’re newest allegations, which include removing the signs. I have a website up if you want to read the documents.

      • Dr. Richmann

        Sounds like you really need the advice of an Attorney who deals in Real Estate Law. You might be able to sue the City for harassment, etc..
        Write a one or two page summary and fax it or email it to Attorneys who handle these matters and ask them if they would be interested in representing you or your mother, etc.
        Sometimes they have a lot of cases and can’t take on new cases, but keep trying.
        Then meet with them and discuss the merits of the case and sign a contract with them. They might do it on a contingency basis, so it won’t cost you anything.
        There’s an Attorney or Lawyer referral association that could help refer you.
        Google it.

        • Kristen

          Sound advice–thanks. We already have lawyers and I agree that the city
          for whatever reason seems intent on being sued over this.

  • CMK

    I just received news that I am approved for this Block Grant Program but in order to proceed I have to come up with $120,000 !!!! How does that help? My house already elevated and now they are saying that I have to go up another 4 ft. – Christa Kelly

    • Dr. Richmann

      I would request a meeting with the Mayor. He is your Public Servant and your tax dollars pay his salary. He should meet with you and be able to answer the questions you posted. He can bring your concerns to the proper people in Government.

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