Going up

Long Beach homeowners struggle to pay for house-raising

Many residents tearing down Sandy-damaged homes


Michael Seemann watched his new house fly high above his head. Well, part of it, anyway.

Suspended by a 40-foot crane, the last piece of Seeman’s new modular home was put in place at around noon on Tuesday, drawing onlookers from blocks away.

During Hurricane Sandy, Seemann’s one-story bungalow on East Fulton Street was flooded by four feet of water. Seemann and his wife, Allison, decided that, rather than try to repair it, they would just knock it down and build new.

“We had no foundation,” he said. “It was sitting on the sand.”

Once they were notified by the city that the house was 70 percent damaged, they knew that, like many in Long Beach, they would have to elevate it or face sky-high flood insurance premiums.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted 2,755 post-storm home inspections in Long Beach, and determined that 860 homes were “substantially” — more than 50 percent — damaged, and would have to be raised or demolished, according to Building Commissioner Scott Kemins.

Kemins estimated that, on average, raising a house costs homeowners around $75,000, and many in Long Beach say they simply cannot afford to do it. Though aid is available from FEMA and companies that issue flood insurance, it has restrictions. The Increased Cost of Compliance and Hazard Mitigation Grant programs are two ways homeowners can get money to help offset the cost of raising a house. ICC provides up to $30,000, and funding is distributed to homeowners through their insurance companies, Kemins said, with half of the money paid upfront and the other half released when the work is completed.

HMGP is a FEMA grant, and pays up to 75 percent of the cost of mitigation efforts, including raising a home, Kemins said. However, the funding can’t be used to recoup money already spent on a construction project. Not only that, but homeowners don’t apply for the money directly. They sign up for it through the city, but the process can take years because FEMA has to approve the funding after the state decides how to appropriate it. Kemins said that Long Beach has yet to see any HGMP money from Tropical Storm Irene, which struck in 2011.

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