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Sandy Deals Powerful Blow To N.J. Housing Situation


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

More than two weeks after Sandy hit the Northeast, thousands of people in New Jersey are still unable to return to their homes. And as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, finding temporary housing has proven to be a confusing and difficult process for many storm victims.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Down a long driveway past acres of wooded state farm in Farmingdale, not far from Asbury Park, dozens of displaced New Jersey residents are living in a former children's psychiatric hospital. It's called The Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center. James Pisarczyk lived near the beach in Union City and on the night Sandy hit...

JAMES PISARCZYK: Water was up to our chest in the house, 20-foot wave came rolling through and just wiped everything out in the house.

SYDELL: Since that day, Pisarczyk has been in six different temporary shelters. He says he registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to get financial and practical help finding a new rental.

PISARCZYK: Something to call home temporary until we can find something more permanent. But nobody's got any answers, and it's hard.

SYDELL: The struggle to get answers is a refrain here among a group of shelter residents sitting outside chatting together. Though FEMA officials have visited here several times to help people register for assistance - in fact they were there yesterday - Jason Braun says they don't seem to really help.

JAMES BRAUN: A lot of people here get extremely frustrated because they build their hopes up and then, bang, they crash them down immediately because it's the same thing every day.

SYDELL: In his case, Braun says he actually found an apartment, but he can't take it yet because FEMA hasn't sent him the money he needs for a deposit. A lot of people at this particular shelter are here because it's one of the few that will take pets. Nikki Kroh lived in Asbury Park Towers, housing for seniors. She says it was evacuated after salt water caused electrical damage. She wouldn't leave without her kitty.

NIKKI KROH: I mean, I wasn't going to leave at all. I'm not going without my baby. She's 13 years old. You know, what are you going to do, leave a cat in a cold house by itself? No.

SYDELL: Now, she's heard rumors that this shelter may close and she'll be moved somewhere else.

KROH: You know, you get crazy. You know, you hear this, you hear that. You don't know who to believe, who not to believe. It's a little frustrating.

SYDELL: I tried to ask the county officials running this shelter some questions, but I wasn't allowed in.




UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Media's not allowed in.

SYDELL: I just wanted to find out - they tell me this facility is going to be closing soon. Do you know if that's true?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, we don't have a time frame on that.

SYDELL: This facility is run by the county. It can close at any time. FEMA's role is to try and help people get more permanent housing. They can also help find shelter for pets but not necessarily near their owners.

One route out of the shelter is to go to a FEMA-approved hotel or motel. That's what Dina Ridot tried to do. But they were all booked. So, she started looking for anything. As she sits in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express in Neptune, Ridot says she did lot of calling before she got this room and was usually told...

DINA RIDOT: We're full until November 30th. We're full until December 10th. We're, like, talking into, you know, the next four to six weeks.

SYDELL: Because this hotel isn't FEMA approved, Ridot isn't sure she will get reimbursed. But she too says getting answers from FEMA isn't easy.

RIDOT: The first few days calling FEMA, we got recordings that our call volume is high. Please call back at another time. And there is one day that I spent literally from 7 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock in the afternoon getting the same recording.

SYDELL: FEMA officials say there is a lot of aid available. But, they admit that it can be a, quote, "time consumer process to get that aid." But, for people who've spent over two weeks being shuffled around, patience may be even harder to come by than a hotel room.

Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.
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