Many homes in the Staten Island neighborhood of New Dorp Beach were shattered by Hurricane Sandy. But even in a New York City community as hard hit by the superstorm as this one, Rudy Mienert's house stops passersby dead in their tracks. Slabs of its clapboard exterior litter the ground, the front fence is mangled and a sedan languishes in the yard where storm waters left it.
But most striking is the home's disfigured facade. One section is missing, another is badly damaged. Mienert, a 54-year-old police sergeant at the 5th Precinct in Manhattan's Chinatown, said that a ship container caused the damage when Sandy's surging waters hurled it at the house.
"I expected the basement [to flood], 12 inches on the ground," he said. But the flood's depth turned out to be closer to 12 feet.
On Thursday, Mienert and a friend sloshed through muck in his front yard, in mud-spattered jeans, clearing debris. Mienert says that he's working as quickly as possible to make his home habitable again, but there's a problem: He doesn't know where the money is going to come from. "That's the big question," he said.
Mienert (pictured above in a plaid sweatshirt, with a friend, at his home) is one of many Hurricane Sandy victims who remain in the dark about how much relief money, if any, they stand to receive for their damaged homes. And like others in his neighborhood, Mienert is largely unaware of an array of other aid available to him -- besides compensation from the government or insurance companies.
Homeowners and relief workers in New Dorp Beach who spoke to AOL Real Estate on Thursday said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not gotten back to many residents since they filed claims for assistance shortly after the storm.
Those homeowners covered by flood and homeowners insurance also said that they have yet to receive settlement offers from their insurance companies.
And many of the hard-hit residents of New Dorp said that they were unaware that they could take advantage of other forms of relief offered by the government, such as special loans, mortgage assistance and temporary housing.
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Hurricane Sandy Housing Aid Eludes Storm Victims in Hard-Hit Staten Island Neighborhood
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'I Heard They Would Cut a Check Right Away'
Mienert initially expected prompt assistance from FEMA. "I heard that they would cut a check right away," he said.
If the homeowner has insurance, however, the process is more complicated. FEMA first needs to know how much insurance money a homeowner will receive before it determines how much aid -- if any -- it will grant.
So far, the homeowners that AOL Real Estate spoke to had not had their properties assessed by FEMA. But even if they had, possible relief would still have been out of reach because their insurers had not yet made settlement offers.
As of Thursday, there have been 145,000 requests for aid from New Yorkers, and FEMA has distributed nearly $200 million in response, said FEMA spokesman Bill Rukeyser.
But that doesn't mean much to some of the victims in New Dorp. As far as they're concerned, Uncle Sam is just giving them the cold shoulder.
And even if homeowners like Mienert do receive FEMA grants, the relief money most likely won't be enough to pay for full repairs to their homes. "It's not designed to replace wall-to-wall carpeting," Rukeyser said. "It's not designed to put them back to just the way they were before."
The only problem is that homeowners cannot pursue an SBA loan until they find out whether or not they qualify for a FEMA grant.
"I heard about SBA," said Mienert, leaning on a rake in his front yard, which was covered in slush. "But I have to hear from FEMA first."
Either way, Mienert at least stands a chance of obtaining some relief from FEMA because his home in New Dorp is his primary residence. But for people with second homes impacted by disasters: government relief generally doesn't cover those.
That has dismayed some Sandy victims. Many of the communities that took the brunt of the storm were chock-full of vacation homes.
However, there is an exception for some owners of second homes in hard-hit areas. If someone uses a second home as a rental property -- and can prove it -- the person may be eligible for an SBA loan.
Temporary Housing: Not Just a Rumor
In addition to being hazy on any direct aid that they may be entitled to, storm-hit residents also are struggling to find temporary housing. Sal Conte, a retired military veteran, has been staying with his sister-in-law while he clears out his water-damaged bungalow and waits to hear from FEMA and his insurance providers.
Conte (pictured at his house below) could be eligible for a transitional housing program that was launched by FEMA last week, but he had only heard "a rumor" about such a program and had dismissed it.
Rukeyser said that to apply for the program, a homeowner must call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or register online. He added that providing shelter for Sandy victims has been particularly difficult given the number of people affected by the storm in the New York area.
Mortgage Relief? 'I Need to Find Out About That!'
Some homeowners also appear to be ignorant of housing aid offered separately from FEMA or insurance companies.
Conte's eyes lit up when he heard that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration are extending mortgage relief to people affected by Sandy.
"I need to find out about that!" he said.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have authorized banks that service their loans to grant forbearance, waive late fees and suspend foreclosure proceedings for up to a year. The FHA, meanwhile, has placed a moratorium on foreclosures and has encouraged banks that service its loans to offer borrowers forbearance.
Borrowers are advised to call their lenders or, if applicable, the government-backed entity that owns their mortgage to find out if they qualify for the relief.
The FHA also allows a borrower with an FHA-insured mortgage, whose home was destroyed in a disaster, to obtain a 100-percent financed mortgage (meaning no down payment and, in some cases, no closing costs). Known as a 203(h) loan, it can be used to rebuild a wrecked home or buy another one.
A last option for disaster victims is the FHA-insured 203(k) loan. That loan is often used to fund home renovations. But it can also come in handy for disaster-stricken borrowers. The mortgage's selling point is that it allows a borrower to avoid taking on more than one loan, which is often necessary to repair a home.
"People probably don't know that it exists," said Jeff Onofrio, director of renovation lending at AnnieMac in Mount Laurel, N.J. "It's not immediate. It's not going to answer all of the problems that have happened because of this devastation. But the FEMA thing is tough: The government can only put so much money aside."
For now, Mienert will keep his fingers crossed while he waits for answers. He plans on doing all the necessary cleanup on his home himself. But when it comes time to install new clapboard on his storm-ravaged facade, he'll need to hire some hands. And for now, he doesn't know if he'll have the cash to do it.
AOL staff writer Ross Kenneth Urken contributed to this report.
Hurricane Sandy Housing Aid Eludes Storm Victims in Hard-Hit Staten Island Neighborhood
Rising floodwaters caused by Hurricane Sandy rush into a subterranian parking garage on Monday in Manhattan. Sandy's storm surge was estimated to affect hundreds of thousands of homes along the East Coast.
Vehicles are submerged on 14th Street near the Consolidated Edison power plant in New York. The storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain. It ranks high among other recent natural disasters that have destroyed urban areas.
A general view of submerged cars on Avenue C and Seventh Street in Manhattan after severe flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, with widespread power outages and significant flooding.
Lower Manhattan goes dark during Hurricane Sandy. Power has been out in parts of New York all week and might not be turned back on until the weekend. It may make many consider whether to buy a standby generator.
The town of Long Beach, N.Y., is submerged by the storm. It was one area where homeowners were desperately trying to prepare for Hurricane Sandy's onslaught.
A person tries to cross the street in Atlantic City, N.J., as Hurricane Sandy churns toward the East Coast. The city was like a ghost town, with casinos shuttered, tourists fleeing and many parts of the town inundated in knee-high water.
A home in Manalapan, Fla., shows the severe damage it sustained when Hurricane Sandy passed through. Many homes were left ravaged in the wake of the storm, leaving homeowners worried about what their insurance would cover.
A wave crashes against the shore in Montauk, N.Y., while a person stands on a porch as Hurricane Sandy moves up the coast.
Ocean waves kick up near homes along Peggoty Beach in Scituate, Mass.
Aerial view of the coast in Belmar, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy left widespread damage along the Eastern Seaboard. Homeowners are likely to be turning their attention to how to recover from the storm.
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Waves wash over a ruined roller coaster from a Seaside Heights, N.J., amusement park, after the pier beneath the Star Jet coaster collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey got the brunt of the massive storm, which made landfall in the state.
Caleb Lavoie, 17, of Dayton, Maine (front), and Curtis Huard, 16, of Arundel, Maine, leap out of the way as a large wave crashes over a seawall on the Atlantic Ocean during the early stages of Hurricane Sandy in Kennebunk, Maine.
Sailboats rock in choppy water at a dock along the Hudson River Greenway in New York.
Waves pound a lighthouse on the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland. High winds spinning off the edge of Hurricane Sandy took a vicious swipe at northeast Ohio, uprooting trees, cutting power to hundreds of thousands, closing schools and flooding parts of major commuter arteries that run along Lake Erie.
Firefighters look up at the facade of a four-story building on 14th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan that collapsed onto the sidewalk during Hurricane Sandy.
Downed power lines and a battered road is what Hurricane Sandy left behind as people walk off the flooded Seaside Heights island.
Richard Thomas walks through the floodwaters in front of his home after assisting neighbors in Fenwick Island, Del.
People wade and paddle down a flooded street as Hurricane Sandy approaches in Lindenhurst, N.Y.
An ambulance is stuck in more than a foot of snow near Belington, W.Va, in Sandy's aftermath. The storm buried parts of West Virginia under more than a foot of snow, cutting power to at least 264,000 customers and closing dozens of roads. At least one death was reported.
The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast in Mantoloking, N.J. Americans sifted through the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy after the storm passed, with millions left without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote.
A woman walks over the flooded streets of Hoboken, N.J., after Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm was one of the largest in history to hit the East Coast.
A parking lot full of yellow cabs is flooded as a result of Hurricane Sandy in Hoboken, N.J.
A 168-foot water tanker, the John B. Caddell, washed ashore on New York's Staten Island from Hurricane Sandy's powerful winds.
Brian Hajeski, 41, of Brick, N.J., reacts after looking at debris of a home that washed up on to the Mantoloking Bridge in Mantoloking, N.J., the morning after Hurricane Sandy rolled through.
Foundations and pilings are all that remain of brick buildings and a boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., after they were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
This aerial photo shows burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of Queens, N.Y., after strong winds whipped a fire into an inferno. The tiny beachfront neighborhood had been evacuated before it was inundated by floodwaters, transforming a quaint corner of the Rockaways into a smoke-filled debris field.
A fire fighter surveys the smoldering ruins of a house in Breezy Point. More than 100 homes were destroyed in a fire which swept through the oceanfront community during Hurricane Sandy.
A car is buried in sand that was washed in from Hurricane Sandy in Long Beach Island, N.J.
In this aerial photo, people survey destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J.
Jim Margiotta digs sand out from under his garage door, which was caused by Hurricane Sandy, in Long Beach, N.Y.
This aerial photo shows a collapsed house along the central Jersey Shore coast.
Heavy surf caused by Hurricane Sandy buckles Ocean Avenue in Avalon, N.J.
Cars are submerged at the entrance to a parking garage in Manhattan in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. A wall of seawater and high winds slammed into the city, destroying buildings and flooding tunnels.
A woman stands near destroyed homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaway section of Queens, N.Y. The death toll has risen to nearly 100 in the U.S., with 41 in New York City alone.
Boats are piled on top of each other at the Morgan Marina near Sayreville, N.J.
A man walks by the remains of part of the historic Rockaway boardwalk in Queens, N.Y., after large parts of it were washed away during Hurricane Sandy.
Waves break in front of a destroyed amusement park wrecked by Hurricane Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J.
This aerial photo shows burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of Queens, N.Y., after a massive fire that was fanned by Hurricane Sandy's winds.
Robert Connolly, left, embraces his wife, Laura, as they survey the remains of the home owned by her parents that burned to the ground in Breezy Point. At right is their son, Kyle.
Andrew Seemar, 13, removes items from a room as he and his mother, Kathleen, clean up after their home in Brick, N.J., was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
Rescuers bring people out by boat in Little Ferry, N.J., in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Olivia Loesner, 16, hugs her uncle, Little Ferry Deputy Fire Chief John Ruff, after she was rescued from her flooded home in Little Ferry, N.J.
The remains of homes destroyed by a fire that swept through the Breezy Point neighborhood in New York City's borough of Queens.
Brian Hajeski, 41, of Brick, N.J., reacts as he looks at debris of a home that washed up on to the Mantoloking Bridge in Mantoloking, N.J., the morning after Hurricane Sandy rolled through.
Virgen Perez, left, and her husband, Nelson Rodriguez, center, look around their home which was flooded by Hurricane Sandy in Atlantic City, N.J.
Johnny Adinolfi is comforted by neighbor John Vento, right, as he stands in what was once the living room of his home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Massapequa, N.Y.
People take photos of water filling the Bowling Green subway station in Battery Park in Manhattan as New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
This satellite image shows the monstrous size of Hurricane Sandy before it made landfall on the East Coast.