Marsha Martin: “Without the RREM Program, I couldn’t have come back home.”
Visit: August 27
Ocean City, NJ
When the Nor’easter hit New Jersey this past October, it caused extensive tidal flooding along the barrier islands along the coast of southern New Jersey, particularly in Atlantic and Cape May county communities.
The flooding from the storm didn’t touch Marsha Martin’s home in Ocean City. “Elevation brought us above water. It’s wonderful to be in here and not have to worry,” said Ms. Martin, whose house was elevated about eight feet through the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Mitigation Program. “It’s great. RREM works.”
She lost everything she owned on October 29, 2012, when Superstorm Sandy ravaged New Jersey. Ms. Martin was so excited about moving into her new home that she didn’t care that her only furnishings were an air mattress, one pot and one pan. “It’s wonderful to be back home and not have to worry. I didn’t care that I didn’t have a piece of furniture. It didn’t matter because I was so glad to be home.”
For Ms. Martin, a Spanish interpreter/translator for the Atlantic-Cape May Vicinage of State Superior Court, “The RREM Program was a godsend. I was so happy that I was able to qualify for the grant. Without the RREM Program, I couldn’t have come back home.”
Ms. Martin used to visit Ocean City as a teenager to vacation in what was then her family’s shore house. In 1990, she and her children made the house their permanent home. Ms. Martin evacuated the day before the storm made landfall. It would be three days before she could get back on the barrier island to see the damage.
Seaweed hung from the four-foot high fence on her property. That confirmed how high the flooding had been. Once inside her home, “It was devastating,” she recalled. “It was a disaster. The floors were soaking wet with black water. I was walking around in a daze.”
The four feet of water Sandy sent rushing through her home destroyed all her possessions. “I lost everything. All of my papers from forever, they’re gone. Pictures of my children when they were little, they are gone. All my electronics. All my clothes. Everything.”
By the time she got back into her house to see the damage, mold had set in. Walking in her home after Sandy, she felt so helpless and overwhelmed. It was hard to know where to start to put back the pieces of her home. A group from a church organization helped Ms. Martin remove everything from her house.
When work started, she made sure to visit her property every day. Each day she took a photo of her home. “The demolition was amazing to watch,” she said. “And the way they put the piles in to elevate the house was fascinating. Before, they used to pound them in and now they kind of screw them in.”
“She was known as “Bob the Builder” to her children,” her daughter Alley Santos-Martin joked. “She would send me pictures every day to show me the progress.”
Her builder, Keith Leonard of Halliday Leonard, was so understanding and worked with her through the process so she could get the floor plan that she wanted. Instead of having all three bedrooms upstairs, she wanted her master bedroom and another bedroom on the first floor and the third bedroom on the second floor. Her furnace and air conditioning are located on the second floor out of harm’s way. Her new home also has an unfinished room on the second floor that she hasn’t decided what to do with. Her front porch gets a pleasant sea breeze and she can see the Ocean City Ferris wheel from the porch, especially at night when the wheel is lit up.
She moved into her reconstructed home on September 29, 2014. “She walks around the house and points out all the things she loves,” her daughter said. “Like she’ll say, ‘Don’t you love the recessed lighting!’ and ‘Don’t you love the fireplace!’”
Martin says she thanks all of the people who helped her get back home. She said she received help from her housing advisors, Marilyn Kleinberg and George Dib, at the Cape May County Housing Recovery Center in Cape May. The Department of Community Affairs’ Sandy Recovery Division maintained centers staffed by housing advisors to provide assistance to homeowners in the RREM Program in the nine counties most impacted by the storm.
Ms. Martin said she particularly relied on Tom Kurek in DCA’s Trenton headquarters for assistance. “Whenever I had a question, I called him. He always called back. He’s the most wonderful person in the world,” she said of Tom Kurek.
Kurek visited Ms. Martin along with Sam Viavattine, Director of DCA’s Sandy Recovery Division, to thank and congratulate her for choosing to rebuild her home and stay in her community as part of the Sandy recovery process. “This means so much to us to see people back in their homes and happy,” Sam Viavattine said.
“My home is wonderful. I enjoy it every day. RREM is a godsend,” Ms. Martin said.
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