Amid all the focus on the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City has not gotten as much attention as other parts of the coast, since its boardwalk and tourist area came through the storm largely unscathed.
But the flooding from Sandy was devastating to the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where 20 percent of the people live in poverty. Many of the residents of these areas are low-wage immigrants with limited English skills who’ve have had trouble navigating the complex maze of insurance and government aid.
Typical among them is Mohammed Kabir, who immigrated with his family from Bangladesh about a dozen years ago. He lives on a dead-end street just a few blocks from the boardwalk, but it’s a world away. Kabir’s home took on four feet of water during Sandy. Though he had flood insurance, his company provided only limited funds for repairs, claiming that his home’s damage had preexisted the storm.
When we first visited him back in May, Kabir, his wife, and his two young daughters were living in a tiny room with a mattress on the floor in the back of the house, while the rest of the building remained gutted.
Their kitchen was destroyed, so he was cooking meals at a friend’s house several blocks away, carrying pots of chicken curry back through the streets every night to feed his family dinner. Some of the brick walls were jagged, the ceiling beams were leaning, and the house had been declared unsafe for habitation, but the family had no where else to go. “I can’t sleep more than a couple of hours,” Kabir said. “I can wake up in the morning, sometimes 4:00, 3:00 . . . I’m thinking too much. What are you going to do? How am I going to take care of my kids? This is a big problem right now.”
Kabir applied for storm-recovery assistance in the spring. He says he filled out all sorts of paperwork, and the state sent adjusters to his home to assess the damage and take measurements. Five months later, he’s still waiting for an answer. He’s called the hotline several times and spoken with supervisors to check on his status, but they keep telling him to be patient. In the meantime, he’s continuing to work at his job in the kitchen of a nearby casino — where he makes less than $2,000 a month. And he and his family are still living in the tiny, backroom of their house. Without any heat, he’s concerned about the approaching winter.
Update: In response to an inquiry from NJ Spotlight, the NJ Department of Community Affairs — which is administering many of the Sandy aid programs for homeowners — looked into Kabir’s case and confirmed that he’s in the process of receiving a $10,000 Resettlement grant. He’s also been preliminarily approved for an RREM grant, which could provide up to $150,000 to help repair and elevate his home.
Kabir has been assigned a housing advisor who speaks his language to walk him through the process. Program Managers are currently crunching numbers to come up with an estimate of how much it will cost to repair his home, and how much to award him in aid. His file has now been transferred to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to conduct federally mandated environmental and historic reviews, before any final payout determinations can be made. It’s unclear how long that will take, but a DCA spokeswoman says that as soon as those reviews are completed, the agency will immediately schedule him to sign his grant agreement.