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There’s nothing like the view from a RREM-elevated home.

There’s nothing like the view from a RREM-elevated home.

Lauren Barcellona: “My father is so happy the RREM Program gave him his house back.”


As Superstorm Sandy approached New Jersey in October 2012, Thomas Barcellona didn’t want to leave his home.


The house held too many memories for the World War II veteran. Right next to Barnegat Bay in Berkeley Township, it was a beautiful property with an amazing view from the back porch and the large window in his living room. Thomas Barcellona’s parents purchased it as a summer home in 1964. Mr. Barcellona lived in Maplewood with his family until he made it his permanent residence when he retired in 1991.


His daughter, Lauren Barcellona, who lives with him and is his primary caretaker, told her father that they had to evacuate. As did thousands of others, they left the house the day before Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012.


They went to a hotel farther inland and stayed there for two weeks after Sandy. After the hotel, they moved six more times. They lived in rentals and with friends in their homes, all primarily in Ocean County. For about two months after Sandy, Ms. Barcellona, who is partner in a real estate company, the Arthur Rue Agency in Seaside Park, was without work because of the sheer devastation in the area.


After the storm, when they were allowed to return, they found the house severely damaged. Sandy left six feet of water in their home. The view of sunsets over Barnegat Bay that Mr. Barcellona had enjoyed so much for so many years was gone. Like so many other homes throughout Toms River and communities up and down the Jersey Shore, his home was destroyed as was his neighbor’s house next door.


Mr. Barcellona’s house had to be torn down. It was a devastating loss for Mr. Barcellona. His wife, who passed away five years ago, loved the home. The garage, filled with possessions collected over a lifetime, was destroyed as well.  They threw out almost everything in the garage and house. The garage was filled “with more things than you could possibly know what to do with,” said Ms. Barcellona. They lost it all, including almost all of their family photos.


Mr. Barcellona never thought he would make it back home. He sincerely thought he would pass away without ever being in his home again. “It was his one wish to come home,” said Ms. Barcellona.


Despite the severe damage to his house, Mr. Barcellona decided to stay and rebuild because his home held so many of his life’s memories. “It became our mission to get him home,” said Ms. Barcellona of her and her two brothers.


Within the first hour of the launch of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, his son, Tom, applied on line, then drove his father to the Housing Recovery Center in Lakewood to complete the application process.


She and her father visited the house three times a week to check on the progress. “Once construction started, it went quickly,”


Three days before Christmas 2014, Mr. Barcellona got his wish. He moved back into his home.


“He was so excited,” said Ms. Barcellona. “My father is so happy the RREM Program gave him his house back. My father never truly believed he would get his house back. He stands in front of it and can‘t believe it.”


Two days before Mr. Barcellona turned 90 years old on July 26, Department of Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner David Reiner and Sandy Recovery Division Director Sam Viavattine visited the house to thank Lauren and her father for their commitment to rebuild their home and stay in their community.


“He’s very proud of his house and thankful for the RREM Program,” Ms. Barcellona told Deputy Commissioner Reiner.


The house was elevated nearly 11 feet. “There is nothing like that view,” Ms. Barcellona noted. “He has his sunset back.”

For more stories like this one, please visit Spotlight on Recovery.