Sue Suebelka, who had little fish swimming among the shelves of her new refrigerator, won’t have to pay quite as much for flood insurance.
Kim Ely, who still washes dishes in a bucket and eats dinner from a microwave in her gutted home, will now be able to remain there and fix it.
And George Kasimos, who kicked off a protest movement against soaring flood insurance rate increases after Superstorm Sandy, will see his rates rise by $1,500 instead of $8,000.
The three residents of the Jersey shore all saw their homes damaged by the Oct. 2012 storm — and all were on the hook for giant increases in their flood insurance premiums under a program designed to bring the cost of that insurance more in line with its actual cost. But a bipartisan bill scaling back those massive increases passed Congress on March 13 and was due to be signed by President Obama.
The legislation caps annual rate increases at an average of 15 percent, with a maximum of 18 percent for primary homeowners. Secondary homeowners can still see their premiums rise by 25 percent a year.
“It’s a victory, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Kasimos, who founded the group Stop FEMA Now after his Toms River home was damaged by Sandy and then threatened with whopping insurance rate increases.
“We did get substantial change,” he said. “This is arguably one of the least productive Congresses in American history, and we managed to get a bill passed.”
Ely, a nurse and widow, saw her home in Brick get flooded in the storm, and it still has not been fully repaired.
“We knew we had to win this fight,” she said. “Most of us were homeless when we started this effort, paying for bumper stickers and fliers with our own money when we should have been putting that money into our homes.”
Her combined insurance bill for her primary home and a rental property would have been nearly $20,000 a year. Now, it will be a fraction of that.
“I’ll be able to stay in my home now,” she said. “Before, I couldn’t afford to stay in it, I couldn’t sell it, and I couldn’t afford to elevate it.”
Suebelka returned to her Brick home when the national Guard lifted a blockade two weeks after the storm to find killifish swimming around in her new refrigerator.
“Talk about a nervous breakdown,” she said. “My work boots fell apart during this project. The soles literally wore off, with all the mud and muck.”
Hers was a second home, so annual premiums that used to cost her $2,000 a year will rise by 25 percent a year — plus a $250 surcharge. Despite her happiness over the legislation, she’s still not sure she’ll be able to afford it.
“I’m looking at foreclosure,” she said. “I’m not eligible for much help at all. I got not nearly enough to build it back to what it was, and I can’t afford to raise it.”
Another provision, eagerly sought by the real estate industry, will allow home sellers to pass taxpayer-subsidized policies on to the people buying their homes instead of requiring purchasers to pay actuarially sound rates immediately. The new rates are particularly high in older coastal communities, including New Jersey, and have put a damper on home sales.
The legislation is widely seen as a boon to the Jersey shore’s efforts to recover from Sandy’s lingering effects by spurring home sales and revitalizing struggling business districts.
“It’s a lot better than it was,” said Lee Childers, a real estate agent whose territory includes some of the areas hardest-hit by Sandy. His only regret is that second homeowners were not afforded the same break as primary homeowners.
“It’s not even half a loaf. It’s three-quarters of a loaf,” he said. “It should definitely help.”
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