“I’m just so grateful to get the help.” Rudolph Petrella on the RREM Program
Superstorm Sandy sent floodwaters racing through the Bergen County borough of Moonachie so quickly that Rudolph Petrella didn’t have time to get out of his home on Ramella Avenue. He had just enough time to get to his basement, shut off the electricity, and race up to the second floor. During the October 2012 storm, it took the rushing water less than half an hour to crest at nearly 4½ feet, seriously damaging his home 2,000 feet from the Hackensack River.
While neighbors next door and across the street sold their storm-damaged homes and moved away, Petrella chose to stay and rebuild. He filled out the application online for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program shortly after the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) launched its largest Sandy housing recovery program.
A few days before Thanksgiving 2014, Petrella and his son Josh moved into their brand new modular home, one of the more than 1,100 families who have now rebuilt their homes through the RREM program.
“The fact that you guys even started the program means so much,” Petrella told DCA Sandy Recovery Division Director Sam Viavattine, who visited Petrella to congratulate the homeowner for his commitment to rebuild. “I’m just so grateful to get the help.”
His son Josh, who graduated last year from Wood-Ridge where he played football, said: “We really wanted to come back to our neighborhood and our home. That was the main goal. I’ve lived here all my life. I didn’t want to leave and neither did my dad.”
Petrella, a building trades teacher at Passaic High School, acknowledged the challenges the RREM Program faced in the beginning as the State launched its efforts to assist thousands of homeowners and tenants recover from the worst natural disaster in New Jersey history.
Once construction began, the Program went smoothly. Petrella noted that the advance payment the RREM Program provided him once he signed his grant agreement was a huge help.
With his background in construction, he served as his own general contractor, saying “I was frugal with the grant money. I made sure to get lots of price quotes to stretch my grant funds as much as possible.”
He added some nice finishes to his new home, which he paid for himself, such as the chandelier now hanging in his foyer, a back deck, and outside lighting. His previous home had two bathrooms. His new house has three bathrooms, including a beautiful master bath with a deep tub accented by tile work he did himself.
Petrella elevated his home 11 feet. While he notes the stairs he has to climb to get to his elevated home is “how I get my exercise every day,” on a more serious note he acknowledges, “you have to outsmart the water.”
The elevation not only provides storage space and a one-car garage, it also enabled him to reduce his flood insurance premiums. Before the storm, his annual premium was $1,700. The premium on his reconstructed home jumped to $7,000 a year. But as his house went up, his annual premium went down to $540.
“Many people who did not raise their homes will have much higher premiums now than they did prior to Sandy,” Petrella said. “That is a huge savings for me of $6,500 per year, and more than worth raising the house.”
Now that he’s back in his home, Petrella expressed appreciation for the RREM Program.
“Whoever came up with this program,” he said, “it’s meant a lot to us.”
DCA casts a spotlight on those who have recovered from the storm. These stories can be found by accessing our new page Spotlight on Recovery.