Federal money available soon to help with Sandy repairs

Government officials, from federal to local, visited Milford’s shoreline Monday, touting progress made since Hurricane Sandy and talking about a new infusion of government dollars designed to help businesses and homeowners rebuild.

The visit came as some area residents said they’re frustrated over waiting for government assistance and maneuvering through red tape.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved the state’s plan for disbursing $71.82 million in federal funding to help with storm repairs, and some of that is expected to help Milford residents still struggling to put their homes back in order.

State officials are awaiting final HUD approval of their application, but they expect to get that any day.

“As we prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at us next, getting this funding out to communities as quickly as possible will ensure that residents can recover from Storm Sandy and we can begin to make smart investments in our towns and cities,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The money is scheduled to be distributed roughly as follows: $30 million to help homeowners repair damage; $26 million to rehabilitate and rebuild low and moderate-income multi-family homes; $4 million to assist a wide range of businesses affected by the storm; $4 million to address infrastructure needs that pose health and safety risks; $2.2 million for public building repairs; and $2 million for planning activities, including plans for future mitigation. Another $3.6 million is for administrative costs, including16 employees plus contractors, equipment, etc.

Individual grants may be used for repairs of single-family and multi-family housing, infrastructure, public facilities and small businesses.

In areas like Silver Sands Beach in Milford, where officials gathered Monday afternoon, the money cannot come quickly enough.

Tom Rea, who lives on Pearl Street, isn’t back in his house yet 10 months after Sandy hit. He said only about a third of his beach area neighbors are back in their homes.

While he’s grateful for any government funds, such as rental assistance, that have helped pay for temporary housing in West Haven, he said the process is mired in bureaucratic red tape.

Rental assistance has to be requalified every three months, and that means submitting a lot of paperwork every three months; the same forms filed the previous period. And still there are holdups: This month’s rent check, for example, hasn’t arrived yet, and he’s never sure exactly when the government will stop paying for the rental.

Rea doesn’t want to complain, but he’s tired and frustrated: He’s shelled out about $86,000 to elevate his home, per government regulations, and the city still won’t let him move back in because the house isn’t completely done. The whole thing is taking a financial toll, and a health toll. Rea is recently out of the hospital following a heart attack and bypass surgery, caused in part, he said, by storm stress.

“I hope when the house is done someone wants to buy it, because I don’t want to be here anymore,” said Rea, who has lived on the street 54 years.

Kevin Eckert, who also lives on Pearl Street, didn’t have flood insurance because in all the years he’s lived in the house, it never flooded. Without flood insurance, he didn’t qualify for federal assistance to help with home repairs, and he doesn’t have the money to make the costly repairs.

In addition to needed repairs, there are mold issues on the first floor because it flooded.

“Thank God for the second floor,” Eckert said.

Tom Ivers, the city’s block grant coordinator, has a unique perspective on the situation: He is a government official, and he was out of his shorefront home until just recently as he made repairs and fretted about the cost. So he understands frustrated homeowners, and he sees the government wheels at work.

Ivers said he was pleased to hear U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan say he expects applications will start being taken by Sept. 1 for the block grant funds.

“It is good to hear that Sept. 1 date,” Ivers said.

In addition to Malloy, Donovan, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes and Mayor Ben Blake spoke at the Monday press conference.

They all agreed that superstorms have become the norm for the area, so the goal of government is not just to help people repair but also to build a stronger shoreline that can withstand future onslaughts.

Blumenthal called Sandy “mammoth and monumental” and said the need now is to get government money into the hands of the people who need it.

Blake, whom one resident said walks the area often checking on progress, said, “We need funding to build. The government shouldn’t do everything, but it has the obligation to help protect people against forces they have no control over.”

Donovan said he understands that the money never comes “fast enough” for people trying to rebuild, adding that this latest grant will fill gaps for people who didn’t find enough elsewhere to do repairs. Because it is block grant money, there are some income guidelines, but he said those guidelines can be flexible.

When the money is availalble, people may apply at ctrecovers.ct.gov.