“This is a gift. The State didn’t have to do this.”
Vincent Bruno on the RREM Program
For Vincent and Susan Bruno, the key to successfully navigating a natural disaster of Superstorm Sandy’s magnitude was maintaining their positive attitude.
Soon after they moved into their Windsor Avenue home on Barnegat Bay in Toms River in the late 1980s, the Brunos elevated their bungalow about 32 inches. That proved sufficient since they were never flooded – until Sandy sent eight feet of water rushing across their property, filling the home with more than two feet of water.
“I just sat in a chair watching the water,” Vincent Bruno recalled. “I couldn’t believe it was coming in the house.”
Vincent and Susan Bruno, as well as their teenage son, Vincent, Jr., stayed in their house during the storm. They left the next day — by kayak — but soon returned to deter the occasional looter who came into their neighborhood by boat from across the bay. The couple’s two daughters were away at the time.
While the family spent their nights in a neighbor’s home, Vincent and Vincent Jr. spent 12-to 15-hour days for weeks after the storm gutting their house and airing it out to prevent mold as much as possible. Despite the effort, “I lost everything in my house,” Vincent Sr. says of the family’s possessions.
“The entire neighborhood had a stench for months after. You could smell mold,” said Susan Bruno. Despite the loss from Sandy, “We had a positive attitude the whole time because they were just things. This is our house. We love our lifestyle. Leaving was never a thought.”
To the Brunos, the State’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program, as well as the Homeowner Resettlement Program, which provided $10,000 grants to those who agreed to remain in their home county for three years, were gifts. “I’m not going to complain about it,” Vincent Sr. said of the RREM Program, which provides up to $150,000 in grant funding to repair, reconstruct and elevate Sandy-damaged homes.
“I would recommend our contractor above anybody,” Susan said of D.E.N.J. Residential Construction.
“We had a really good experience with them,” said Vincent Sr. “They were always here. The site manager always answered the phone when we called. He still stops by our house when he’s around to see how we’re doing.”
D.E.N.J. finished right around the 90-day construction deadline. Because they went over by a few days, D.E.N.J. reimbursed the Brunos by about $500 for rental compensation.
Vincent and Susan Bruno acknowledged that they were astounded when people complained about the RREM Program and the paperwork involved in qualifying for the maximum $150,000 grant.
“I would tell people, ‘You know, this is a gift. The State didn’t have to do this,’’” said Vincent.
“It’s a lot of work. A lot of hustling around. No one is going to come out to your house and fill out the paperwork for you. You have to do it yourself.”
The couple also praised, Ducky Johnson Home Elevation, the contractor that raised their home nine feet. While Susan Bruno said the stairs to her elevated home were probably the hardest thing to get used to, she did boast, “Our views are much more beautiful” from her raised home.
“We had a good attitude about everything. We never had a problem,” said Susan. “The average person could never afford to raise their house. When the State came out with RREM, it was a relief. We are grateful.”
“It’s a different neighborhood since Sandy,” said Vincent Sr.
“It’s an improved neighborhood,” added Susan.
“Now that we’ve raised the house and we’re done, we’ve completely put the storm behind us,” Vincent said to David Reiner, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, and Sam Viavattine, DCA’s Sandy Recovery Division Director, who visited the Brunos to congratulate the homeowners for their commitment to use the housing recovery programs the DCA launched in order repair their Sandy-damaged home.
“This is our house. We love our lifestyle. Leaving was never a thought.” – Susan Bruno
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.