State seeks more Cape May County applicants for grant program

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It’s not your typical problem.

State officials this week say they want more people to ask for money. New Jersey has $100 million in federal money to help residents elevate their homes to reduce the damage from future storms.

Homeowners may be reimbursed up to $30,000 each toward the cost of elevating their existing single family home. Duplexes, summer homes and investment properties are not eligible, but homes that received no damage during Hurricane Sandy could be, because the program is designed to reduce risk of damage in the future rather than to recover from the storm.

Since the program was announced in July, there has been a strong response, according to Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Community Affairs, except in one eligible county.

Cape May County has only seen a fraction of the expected number of applications.

According to Ryan, the program has enough money set aside for the state’s southernmost county to help about 600 owners raise their homes. But the state has not seen a third of the number of expected applications from within the county, Ryan said this week.

“There is a lot more money to be had if only people would apply,” she said. An estimated 2,700 grants are expected to be awarded statewide.

Called the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the “reNew Jersey Stronger” housing initiative.

There is still time to apply. The deadline is Sept. 15. State officials, and some who have filed for the grant, say the application process is fairly quick isn’t hard to understand.

“We’ve made the applications extremely easy to get through,” said program director Scott Brubaker. He estimated that if someone had the needed information ready, the form would take about 15 minutes.

Homeowners can apply at or by calling 1-855-SANDYHM (1-855-726-3946). People can also apply in person at the Housing Recovery Centers at 3860 Bayshore Road in North Cape May, and Brubaker said there is help available to fill out the form.

Before the Sept. 15 deadline, the DCA plans to hold a series of public information sessions in the county, each lasting about an hour and a half and including time for questions, Ryan said.

The first is set for Monday, Sept. 9 at the Lower Township Municipal Hall at 2600 Bayshore Road, then Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Ocean City Free Public Library at 1735 Simpson Ave., and the third meeting is Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Avalon Community Hall , 3001 Avalon Ave. The meetings each start at 6 p.m.

Ryan said officials were trying to get some laptops for each meeting so that those interested could fill out the application right there.

So far, according to Brubaker, only about 180 homeowners have applied in Cape May County. Officials say there is no advantage to waiting until the end of the process, or to getting in early for that matter, but Brubaker suggested many owners were likely waiting to see what changed in FEMA’s preliminary flood maps, which were set to be released on Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Brubaker wanted to stress that the program includes no income eligibility requirements, and houses that escaped Sandy unscathed could still be elevated with the funds.

“At its core, the program is intended to protect from the next storm, rather than to fix the damage from the last storm,” Brubaker said.

Also, unlike many other Sandy-related grant programs, owners do not need to have registered with FEMA after the storm to be eligible.

If enough eligible homeowners do not apply in Cape May County, the money set aside would likely stay in the county to fund other storm hazard mitigation projects, rather than going to homeowners in other eligible counties in New Jersey.

State officials recognized that much of Cape May County escaped the worst of Hurricane Sandy, although there was plenty of flood damage on most of the barrier islands, but Brubaker said owners should be more concerned with where their home falls on the new advisory base flood elevation maps.

No matter what the FEMA maps say, why would someone whose home was dry after Sandy want to elevate?

“Many people may in fact find themselves below the new flood levels, and when they get adopted the owners will likely see significant flood insurance rate increases,” said Brubaker. “That’s a primary driver for a lot of people in elevating their homes.”

With the federal government planning to end subsidies for flood insurance, in addition to flood zone changes, Brubaker said elevating many houses could soon pay for itself.

“We know this is not going to fully fund most elevations, but it’s part of the puzzle,” Brubaker said. Residents can apply for both the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the federal Homeowner Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, which could mean as much as $150,000 in grants, but they can only receive one or the other. Someone offered HMGP money would have to either withdraw from the other program or reject the grant.

However, there are other programs, including funding offered through the National Flood Insurance Program, which could help cover the elevation cost along with the HMGP.

The grants will be prioritized based on flood risk, according to state officials.

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