First families return to Peck’s Beach Village

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Cindy Nevitt / A renovated kitchen at Peck’s BeachVillage with GE gas-fueled stove. Cindy Nevitt / A renovated kitchen at Peck’s BeachVillage with GE gas-fueled stove.

OCEAN CITY — Although there was no “Move that bus” chant, and there were no celebrities to welcome home Tabatha Wilson and her three teenage offspring, the moment the family returned to Peck’s Beach Village was as poignant as any episode of the television series “Extreme Home Makeover.”

“I started crying when I saw it, like on that TV show,” said Wilson, who admitted to being overcome by emotion when she first walked through the front door of her unit at 403 Haven Ave. on Saturday, Feb. 2. “I couldn't believe it’s over. I couldn't believe it was so nice. It was overwhelming.”

Wilson, along with her children, Whitney, 19; Courtney, 16; and Gregory, 16, had been displaced from the only home the children had ever known when they evacuated the island in advance of Hurricane Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29, 2012. Upon returning to their two-story, three-bedroom home three days after the storm, they discovered flood waters had reached as high the doorknob on their front door.

“It blew you away with the smell,” Wilson said of venturing into the destroyed unit to salvage what few possessions she could from the damaged downstairs living quarters. “I never smelled anything that bad.”

Wilson and her children said Wednesday evening that they believe they were the first of the housing development’s tenants to receive the key to their refurbished home, and that they may be the only tenants who are fully moved in. Their unit, one of 10 odd-numbered units between 401 and 419, is among the first in the 60-unit complex to be completed with new walls, new vinyl flooring, a new heater in a closet behind an upgraded door, and all new kitchen appliances, including a GE gas stove, refrigerator, microwave and toaster. A wooden cabinet that hangs above the refrigerator is the only thing contractors need to install in the unit, and Wilson needs to purchase a dinette set and living room furniture.

“Things take time,” she said of finishing the sparsely furnished lower level.

The city of Ocean City funded the approximately $1.5 million in repairs to the federally subsidized housing complex, which receives the bulk of its financial support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. City administrators have said they hope to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for most of the cost of restoring some of the island’s hardest-hit residents to their homes.

“I’m thankful for FEMA and the city’s help,” she said. “I was experiencing horrible panic attacks because I lost my apartment and I lost my car, but with all the help we got, I was able to sleep at night.”

Wilson also thanked Wesley Manor for housing the family and their toy poodle, Kobe, for the four days immediately after their return to town, and offered thanks to the Rev. Gregory Johnson and 2nd Ward Councilman Antwan McClellan for their help. Kobe went to live with Wilson’s brother in Northfield after the family was relocated to Watson’s Regency.

The city ordered all residents of Peck’s Beach Village, the low-income housing development located in the 300 and 400 blocks behind West Avenue, vacate by 5 p.m. Nov. 5, 2012 for mold remediation and reconstruction.

“It was hard around the holidays,” Wilson said of being away from the home the family had occupied since 1997. Wilson has been a resident of Peck’s Beach Village since 1984, originally living with her mother before getting her own unit. “It was very hard. We had to do a lot of things to keep our minds occupied.”

She praised Mayor Jay Gillian for being a man of his word.

“He said he was going to do it and he stood up to it,” she said. “He said he can’t sleep comfortable at night knowing we didn't have a place to sleep. He really did mean what he said.”

As grateful as she is for all of the assistance she and her family have been given, Wilson has no desire to repeat the last few months.

“It’s been an experience all right,” she said, “but I don’t want to go through it again.”

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