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Five years after Sandy, homeowners live with regrets

Beth Henry is seeking a hardship waiver from

Beth Henry is seeking a hardship waiver from New York Rising for funds to elevate the family's house in Massapequa, which was flooded during superstorm Sandy. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

After the storm came the deluge.

The extraordinary demands and decisions and deadlines began after superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters receded and have lasted for years as homeowners struggled to recover while juggling the challenges of ordinary life.

Now, some people say they want a chance to correct mistakes made in the midst of all that, and choices they now regret. Beth Henry, 44, a teacher, and her husband Anthony, 45, a New York City fire marshal, of Massapequa, are among them. They are asking for funds to raise their house, two years after withdrawing from a now-closed New York Rising elevation program.

“I single-handedly got hundreds of people in the program in the beginning,” Beth Henry, a grass roots advocate well-known in Sandy recovery circles, said of NY Rising. “So the irony is that I couldn’t help myself, how I thought I was helping my family at the time, but it wasn’t the right decision.”

About 11,000 Sandy-damaged homes have participated in the Home Recovery Program and more than 7,600 of those have finished repairs, according to the agency. Elevations of homes have occurred more slowly, with just over one-third done of 3,400-plus that are scheduled.

The Henrys, who received NY Rising funds to repair their flooded home, in 2014 chose to enter the optional elevation program, which funded raising of homes in the 100-year floodplain that were not substantially damaged. Properties declared substantially damaged were mandated to elevate.

In December 2014, they received the first installment of the elevation funds. But less than a year later, they sent back the check. They had decided that raising their home would be too costly and stressful and might add to the health difficulties of their older daughter, who was diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. And Beth Henry and her husband too had health issues from Sandy’s rocky aftermath, she said.

Now that NY Rising’s deadline for the program has passed, the Henrys are seeking a hardship waiver so they can reopen their elevation application.

The agency said each case is judged on its merits.

“The important point to stress is that while hardship claims have some commonality, each is unique,” said Catie Marshall, spokeswoman for NY Rising. “There is no formula for success except to have a legitimately — and documented — compelling case.”

Beth Henry is worried that flood insurance rates will go up every year the house is not elevated.

“We’ll be priced out of our house,” she said. “If we can’t pay it, and no one will buy it with a $10,000-a-year flood insurance policy, I really fear we’ll lose the house.”

The Henrys aren’t alone in their regrets.

Scott Kemins, commissioner of the Long Beach building department, said he believes there are many people “who are sorry they didn’t enter into the NY Rising program now that they see neighbors’ housing going up. But I understand. The NY Rising process was very difficult.”

State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford), who formed a Sandy work group to help constituents with storm recovery snags, said he sees a lot of hardship cases.

“In the five years since the hurricane, their lives have changed, they lost a job or got sick. At the time of the storm, you couldn’t imagine how long a repair would take or how different their lives would be,” Brooks said. “Decisions made early on may have turned out not to be the best, given how their world has changed.”

His office is in contact with NY Rising to help resolve issues, he said.

“There were some people quite honestly that didn’t understand the process. They said, ‘I wasn’t told I had a due date,’ but they have documentation that shows they did have one — but they didn’t understand.”

Brooks’ aide Kevin Devlin said some constituents have come in seeking help after a hardship waiver has been denied, but “at that point, it’s hard for us to do anything.”

“There is no appeal process,” Devlin said. “I’ve tried on a couple occasions and NY Rising said no.”

Kim Reilly of Long Beach, a nurse and mother of two, currently faces a huge problem: She is being asked to return $46,000 to NY Rising, money she said she does not have. The agency can demand return of funds it deems were handed out incorrectly or not spent for the specified purposes.

Reilly said she and her husband told NY Rising they were not going to elevate their home when they applied for an award. They did not submit elevation plans and used much of the funding to repay a Small Business Administration loan that they, like many storm victims, took out to pay for repairs, she said.

When they asked for a final housing inspection, she said, they realized NY Rising had intended that the money be used for elevation.

NY Rising said that a document the couple signed in February 2014 clearly indicated that the money was for elevation, and that repairs were largely complete before the award was made.

“I’m going to compose a hardship letter and pray for the best,” Reilly said. “Otherwise, I will be forced to sell my house that I have fought so hard to keep. I have nothing left in me to give.”

She added, “I feel so bad for the poor people in Florida and Texas who are going to go through what they are going to go through. It’s like living a nightmare all over again . . . I just don’t want to think about Sandy anymore. Five years is a long time to think about a stupid storm.”

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