Friday Rant: Federal & State Funding for Rehabbing Vacation Homes Post Sandy — Let's Get Real
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From early childhood, I’ve luxuriated in spending summers at a seaside family vacation home in Southern New Jersey built by my great-grandfather in the 1940’s. And for the past 70 years, my extended family has counted their blessings when after every storm, “The House” has been relatively unscathed — that is, until Hurricane Sandy. We have always known that “a big one” would hit some day and now one has.
My sister and I are currently matriarch and patriarch of this grand family legacy and our seaside vacation community has changed dramatically over the years from a sparsely built fishing and beach town to a super gentrified, mostly non-resident — off season — enclave replete with upscale restaurants, concrete floating docks and even a Starbucks coffee shop. When we and other property owners were permitted on-island in the aftermath of Sandy’s destruction it was a very sad day. But most went to work diligently and in reasonably good spirits unloading their salt water flooded furniture, bedding, appliances, flooring and damaged walls into the streets to be collected by an army of front end loaders and dump trucks appropriately provided by the local municipal government and presumably funded by our very significant property tax dollars. So far so good.
Those with sufficiently elevated and powered homes graciously opened their doors in the evenings for rest, impromptu meals and plenty of wine and beer to hopefully, though temporarily, drown various sorrows. Conversation universally centered around insurance claims, who had flood insurance, who didn’t and availability of FEMA funds for reconstruction and content replacement at which point I vocally declared “are you all serious?”
Most of my contemporary neighbors are extremely affluent and I revelled in stating the case that we had long since declined flood insurance and opted to assume the risk, and savings, of a Sandy caliber storm. I estimated that we had saved approximately an equal dollar amount in insurance premiums, declined over 20 years, to the projected cost of current remediation and could not possibly countenance accepting other peoples tax dollars to maintain our summer life style. Suffice it to say that I’m unlikely to be invited to any future neighborhood summer barbecues and likely allso created a permanent rift with my sister.
I have learned since that most, if not all, of my vacation community neighbors have applied for supplemental relief from FEMA to offset the cost of remediating the damage to their second homes and it preliminarily appears that they may, in fact, receive funds so long as they commit to having flood insurance going forward.
The New York Times reports in an article titled “As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Again, Critics Stop to Ask Why” that “Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way.”
Incomprehensibly, most of my shore town constituents relish in railing against other, far more basic, entitlements for those whom owning just one home is beyond reach.