Carol Kelly: “I am so satisfied, so pleased with everything that was done. That’s the god’s honest truth.”
For the thousands of homeowners elevating their single family homes through the State’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program to avoid a repeat of the flood damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, consider this:
How do you raise your house when you live in an attached side-by-side and your neighbor isn’t elevating?
“You lift it from the inside,” Carol Kelly said as if the solution were obvious.
Ms. Kelly and her then fiancé and now husband Robert Balaam stayed in their two-story attached home when Sandy’s flood waters overwhelmed their Atlantic City neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, October 29, 2012.
She admits that staying was a mistake. “When the water got kind of high, I got kind of scared,” she said. Flooding on the first floor reached their knees. They stayed on the second floor of their two-story home until the flood waters finally receded Tuesday morning.
Then the mold started growing. “The mold was bad,” Ms. Kelly said. By Friday, the mold was growing up the walls. “I lost everything” on the first floor, she said. Soon, the mold reached up into the second floor and claimed more possessions. Aside from the lost items, “The smell was awful. I had to leave.” The damage from Sandy was so bad that the house would have to be gutted.
After registering with FEMA and contacting her insurance company, Ms. Kelly applied for and was deemed eligible for a RREM grant. She signed her grant award agreement on Sept. 18, 2014. With the freedom to select her own contractor, Ms. Kelly picked a local contractor from a nearby town and had a great overall experience.
“They got us involved with the whole project. They asked us what we preferred,” she said, adding that the contractor handled all the permits.
When FEMA rental assistance ran out, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Balaam went to Connecticut to live with her brother since she couldn’t live in her home because of the flood damage. They came back to New Jersey while their house was under construction and elevation. During the construction, they lived in a nearby apartment building and were able to return to their home in July 2015, less than a year after signing their grant award agreement.
Their house had to be gutted. The walls were completely stripped down to the masonry. The contractor “elevated” her house by lifting it from the inside. Instead of raising the structure, the contractor built another floor on the top of the original second floor. The original first floor was turned into a crawl space that is uninhabitable and is used only to elevate the rest of the structure. The new second and third floors are now the living areas.
The home adjoining Ms. Kelly’s was vacant, which helped during construction because there were no neighbors to be affected. Ms. Kelly’s home dates from the 1920s. According to the contractor, the original brick work was in excellent condition and provided a good foundation for the home. A new foundation was built inside the existing brick to provide extra support. New plumbing and new electric was installed, as well as a new furnace and a tankless water heater. Ms. Kelly also got air conditioning, which they didn’t previously have. All the mechanicals are located on the new second floor, which contains the main living area (living room, dining area and kitchen). It is completely open concept. All the ductwork is located between the second and third floors. Their home, which was initially three bedrooms, was redesigned into two bedrooms on the new third floor.
“The RREM program was wonderful. It gave me the money I needed to do the work. I had no problems at all. Whatever I had to do, I did.” Ms. Kelly said that whatever paperwork was needed, she gave it to the RREM Program. “Everything just fell into place. I signed my grant, I found a contractor, then construction started and we were back home.”
“We are satisfied with everything,” Robert Balaam told NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Deputy Commissioner Sam Viavattine, who oversees the Sandy Recovery Division, during a recent visit.
“I am so satisfied, so pleased with everything that was done,” said Ms. Kelly. “That’s the god’s honest truth.”
For more stories like this one, please visit Spotlight on Recovery.