Wendy Amo: “All we wanted was our exact same house back that Sandy took. RREM gave it back to us.”
Wendy Amo greets Samuel Kaplan, her housing advisor at the Ocean Housing Recovery Center: “I will never be able to thank him enough for helping us get back the house we lost in Sandy.”
Visit: July 28
All Wendy and Theodore Amo wanted was to get back the exact same house they built for their retirement in Mantoloking within sight of the ocean.
In 1981, the couple, both physical education teachers, purchased a small cottage located at the narrowest point on the barrier island south of the Mantoloking Bridge just four houses from the beach. Their plan was to turn it into their retirement home.
They did. In 2000, after retiring in 1998 and 1999, they hired Umbrino Construction of Point Pleasant to tear down the small cottage and build them their dream house. As far Wendy and Ted Amo were concerned, Rich Umbrino did exactly that. “We designed this house,” Ms. Amo said. “And Rich built it.”
The couple was so happy with their Jersey Shore home that Umbrino became a family friend, occasionally dropping by for afternoon cocktails.
As with so many others up and down New Jersey’s coastline and river banks, Sandy destroyed their dreams.
Their house was across the street from Camp Osborn, where uncontrolled gas fires burned approximately 60 homes during Sandy. The Amo’s home was miraculously untouched by the fires. But Sandy still did her damage. The October 2012 superstorm dumped four feet of water in their house, destroying almost all of their furniture and possessions, and leaving rooms looking like a sandbox.
Two weeks after the storm, Wendy and Ted Amo, along with their neighbors, were escorted by police back to their homes to pack one suitcase each of belongings they could salvage. Wendy Amo said that Rich Umbrino talked himself onto the bus to accompany the couple back to their home. As the couple stood in front of their damaged home, Umbrino put his arm around her and vowed to rebuild it better than before.
After they applied for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, the couple was informed by Samuel Kaplan, their housing advisor at the Ocean County Housing Recovery Center in Lakewood that they could not use Umbrino Construction because the firm had not applied to participate in the program.
“The program wanted to assign us another contractor,” Ms. Amo said. “We had no other choice.” Sadly, Sam Kaplan helped them file the paperwork to voluntarily withdraw from the RREM Program.
Then, Ms. Amo received a phone call from Kaplan with great news. Demonstrating the flexibility and responsiveness to applicant needs that have been the twin hallmarks of the RREM Program, the program’s rules had been amended to allow homeowners like Wendy and Ted Amo to select their own builder.
Kaplan helped the couple file the paperwork to re-enroll in the program and the homeowners promptly selected Umbrino Construction as their builder.
Speaking of Kaplan, Ms. Amo told NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Deputy Commissioner David Reiner and Assistant Commissioner Laura Shea during a recent visit they made to her home, “I will never be able to thank him enough for helping us get back the house we lost in Sandy.”
Reiner acknowledged that the rule change was in recognition that many homeowners in New Jersey have contractors they trust. “Our goal is to get you back in your homes,” Reiner said of the RREM Program.
As a result, Ms. Amo said, “We got exactly the same house out of the deal, plus new appliances.” The house is almost identical, except it is elevated 44 inches, which Ms. Amo said, enabled her to decrease annual flood insurance premiums to $720 from $1,600.
Another change to the house, explained Ted Amo, was that in the dining area, they installed booth seating reminiscent of the diners they ate in so often while out of their house because of Sandy. “We had to recreate a diner so we could eat,” he quipped.
Ms. Amo said she is extremely satisfied with the RREM Program. “My builder took care of everything.”
As for Sam Kaplan, she said her housing advisor was uniformly excellent. “He helped us tremendously.”
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