By John Burton
FORT MONMOUTH – “I never thought I would be here this long,” this week said Karen Connelly, who after Sandy wound up moving into temporary housing at the former Fort Monmouth.
Since last winter, Connelly and her husband and dog have been living in one of the 115 units that were quickly renovated at the now decommissioned Army fort, to accommodate those displaced by last October’s storm.
Connelly said in a story in the Feb. 22-March 1 edition of The Two River Times™, her home in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown was flooded with about seven feet of water from a neighboring creek during last October’s storm. She, her husband and their 5-year-old Labrador retriever, were able to secure one of the units at the fort, where they’ve been living since then.
“I thought I would be back in my home by summertime,” meaning last summer, she said. However, she has had to face delays from her contractor, who has been overwhelmed with work on other homes, she said. Connelly hopes to be back in her home by Christmas.
Working on getting her home restored has been frustrating, she acknowledged. But having had the opportunity to relocate to the Fort Monmouth housing had been a salvation she said last February and again when contacted this week.
“I don’t know what we would have done without it,” she said, explaining continuing to pay her mortgage and rent while her home was being repaired might have been impossible.
The tenants had access to the apartments for free.
Her unit is small, especially the kitchen. “It’s only temporary, but it has become a community here,” she said, as she has gotten to know many of the neighbors and formed friendships with some, many of whom have also been living here since last winter.
“It’s going to be sad to leave here. You’re not going to be seeing people you’ve been seeing,” she acknowledged. And she worries about some of the others, she said, who have yet to find other accommodations.
In Sandy’s aftermath, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans for the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and Department of Human Services to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to renovate the units, formerly used as officer housing at the fort, which the U.S. Department of Defense closed in Sept. 2011.
Since being made available for Sandy victims, 121 families have at different times used the 115 units. There are now 65 families remaining, said Lisa Ryan, a DCA spokesperson.
Everyone is aware it is an 16-month program, period,” said state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), who has helped place constituents displaced by the storm here.
“They are moving out at a pretty good pace,” at this point, O’Scanlon said. “As you would expect,” as their homes become available, he added.
He called the program a success, saying, “It worked like it was suppose to.”
By the end of March, which would mark the end of the 16 months for most, “if we have some folks who can’t be back in their home for one reason or another we’ll work as hard as we can to move them into more permanent housing,” O’Scanlon said.
“It has become home,” in some regard, Connelly said. About the whole Sandy experience, she added: “It’s something I never want to go through ever again, that’s for sure.”