New Jersey Sandy Victims Moving Into Modular Homes

Mary Brooks’ apartment was destroyed during Superstorm Sandy. She spent five months homeless, bouncing between hotels, a friend’s house and a dormitory at a hospital where her roommate was being treated.

Friday, she was finally able to utter a phrase a long time in the making.

“I’m home,” Brooks said, throwing her arms in the air in her new living room.

Brooks moved into one of 17 modular homes that the nonprofit Affordable Housing Alliance purchased with a $1 million grant from the Robin Hood Foundation.

The units will all be occupied by low-income people whose apartments or homes were damaged in the storm.

After the storm, such low-income residents “are displaced the longest because they don’t have resources,” said Derrick Griggs, CEO of the alliance. “It’s dragging on much longer for those people.”

Griggs said most of the families moving into the homes have been living in hotels – many paid for by FEMA – crashing with friends or spending money on temporary apartments.

Monmouth County is one of New Jersey’s wealthiest, populated mostly with single-family homes. Rentals had always been scarce, and competition for them after the storm has become fierce, driving up prices and leaving some with no options.

“From a broader perspective, we need more opportunities for homes for people displaced by Sandy because people are still in hotel rooms or living with their sister,” Griggs said. “They can’t go back to their location. Their home is destroyed, and they have to reside in an apartment 50 miles from where they lived.”

The Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit that fights poverty in New York City, has allocated more than $62 million to organizations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut working to help people recover from the storm. The foundation is allocating money raised from a December benefit concert and through donations.

About two-thirds of the money has gone to housing organizations because so many people lost their homes, Executive Director David Saltzman said.

Brooks, 65, said the storm destroyed the apartment she and her roommate, Norris Mack, shared in Long Branch, N.J. After staying with a friend, she and Mack moved into a hotel. But Mack, who has heart problems and diabetes, had to be hospitalized, and she ended up at the hospital dorm.

Brooks, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is on disability, scoured apartments to no avail. She said she lost a $300 deposit when a landlord upped the monthly rent after hearing that Brooks qualified for Section 8 government subsidies to help pay for housing.

Brooks heard about the trailers through a social service agency and applied. She now pays $850 a month for the two-bedroom home.

After months of fast-food dinners and cobbling together food to cook in a microwave, Brooks said she plans to make a big Easter dinner with ham, potato salad and deviled eggs.

Her daughter, Thomassina Brooks, said she and her four siblings, all of whom live in Louisville, Ky., can finally rest easy knowing that their mother has a permanent place to stay.

“We’re all going to sleep a little better,” Thomassina Brooks said.

Christy Crank, 38, lived in Long Branch before the storm, which damaged the electrical system in her apartment. Crank said the landlord didn’t fix it and FEMA declared it unsafe for her 2 1/2-year-old daughter. The two moved into a hotel.

Crank and a large group of friends and family carried in mattresses and a bucket filled with cleaning supplies. She was sure to have toys ready in her daughter’s new room; a toy kitchen stood in the middle of the room, and the little girl will get a surprise new Minnie Mouse pillow.

“It’s overwhelming but exciting at the same time,” Crank said. “Now we have stability.”