Sandy update: Still a long way to go for displaced homeowners

There’s a lot of stress still along Milford’s shoreline, despite the fact that it’s been several months since Hurricane Sandy swept through.

The worst is for the people who cannot live in their homes, but are still resposible for the mortgages on them, said Bill Richards, the city’s recovery coordinator.

“They’re still paying their mortgage and insurance, and they can’t live in their homes,” he said. “They have to rent, and for some of them, it’s the second time around.”

Many of these people have been glued to the news stations, waiting to see if the federal government will vote in favor of funding that will help them elevate their homes and start putting them back together.

The city is doing what it can. There is a task force set up to unite a bevy of organizations, from social services, to business groups, to lenders and faith-based organizations. The Long Term Recovery Task Force meets to talk about how to help residents still in need and to make sure the city is ready to help. There is a city fund and a United Way fund to help people with various costs due to the storm.

The numbers are not final yet, but so far, 175 Milford homes have been deemed substantially damaged by Hurricane Sandy, meaning the homeowners need to elevate them before they can get permits to repair them and move back home.

Those are the worst cases. Altogether there are close to 1,000 homes that suffered more than just minor damage, city officials said.

As of last week, 1,019 Milford households applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. The federal government has granted $1.8 million in assistance to help pay for temporary housing and other needs.

The shoreline residents who cannot move back into their homes don’t have it easy even when they qualify for rental assistance.

They are granted 18 months of help from FEMA to pay for living quarters, or a maximum of $31,900.

Mayor Ben Blake said the monthly allotment had been lower but city officials asked FEMA to raise it because of the high cost of rental properties in the area.

“We looked in the MLS, and the cheapest one-bedroom we found was $1,700 a month,” Blake said.

People who qualify are granted housing assistance funds for two months at a time, and then they have to fill out more paperwork to requalify.

At the same time, those people, many of whom used up their money and extended credit to rebuild after Irene, are waiting to see if there will be funds to pay for mandatory elevation of their homes. Elevation costs vary depending on the size of the house, and city officials said it ranges from about $70,000 to $150,000.

After Irene, people had to wait about a year to get approved for elevation reimbursement: FEMA typically reimburses 75% of the cost. Mayor Blake said city officials are pushing for that process to be expedited this time, assuming the money comes through.

A congressional vote is expected Jan. 15 on the release of more federal Sandy assistance dollars. Blake is confident the money will be allocated.

It will be a long process getting people back in their homes and back on their feet, city officials said. “Flooding for these people, twice in 14 months, was just unheard of,” Richards said.

City officials said people may continue to donate to the city’s disaster relief fund, which will go to help city residents. Checks may be made out to the City of Milford, with “Milford Sandy Relief and Assistance” in the memo section, and be mailed to Milford City Hall, 110 River Street, Milford CT 06460, attention Sandy Relief and Assistance Fund.

People who need assistance may call the city’s human services department, 203-783-3253.