By JOSEPH DE LA CRUZ
Joanne Heyman is frustrated – and she’s out of options.
It has been nearly two months since the remnants of Hurricane Ida devastated much of the area, as well as her home in North Riverdale. Still, time hasn’t healed much for her, as getting what she thought was almost automatic help paying for damages doesn’t happen.
“Every time it rained we would get a little nervous,” Heyman said. “Unfortunately, when the rain came this time, we had huge floods.”
It was the kind of rain that meteorologists say only falls once every 500 years. More rain fell over New York City in a matter of hours than it typically would for an entire month of September. With the soil already saturated and nowhere to go for water, it has built up in some of the most troublesome places, including Heyman’s basement.
Heyman and her husband own a two-family house on Post Road. They live on the top two floors and rent the apartment on the first floor to someone else. Because the house was built on a small hill, the entrance to the lower level is just below ground level, allowing water to easily flow into the apartment during heavy rains.
Usually, it’s a joke that tenants and landlords share about what condition the building is in when the sky opens. But this time when Heyman’s tenants called, it wasn’t a joke.
Like many of the city’s underground apartments, Heyman’s entire first floor was almost completely submerged.
“There is incredible damage,” she said. “The sewers were backing up and there was really nothing we could do. “
The apartment and a nearby storage room where the couple kept family memories ended up with up to 24 inches of water.
The Heymans and their tenant have tried everything to keep the water out, including the daunting task of trying to constantly sweep it up. They even tried using weights to keep water out. But nothing worked.
“In the end, when all was said and done, we probably had almost two feet of water in our basement,” Heyman said. “We were like, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do? “”
It would take days for the water to finally recede. At that time, it wasn’t just about family heirlooms and wet furniture – they now had to deal with an exceptional amount of mold. As a real estate professional, Heyman knows how much the organic substance introduced can devalue a home.
“It’s something we always talk to our customers about,” Heyman said. “So we started to inspect everything to get an idea of the nature of the damage. There was already mold starting to build up, and we realized we needed to cut at least five feet of slab rock from the walls.
After contacting a water company to assess the damage, the couple began to make the necessary repairs to the apartment.
After getting a secondary pump, removing the plasterboard, replacing the damaged insulation, and installing new drains in their backyard to hopefully prevent such a catastrophic flood from happening again, Heyman began to heal himself. feel positive. Especially since she was convinced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would step in and help offset all these costs.
Like, that’s what FEMA is here for, right?
Not exactly. The first problem? They own a two-family house. And even though they live upstairs, FEMA told Heyman they weren’t entitled to help because the house was considered investment property.
“This is my primary residence,” Heyman said. “I happen to have a tenant, but I live on the third and fourth floors. “
And that’s the catch, FEMA told Heyman. If the damage had been done upstairs, the agency could help. But it wasn’t – the damage was done to a tenant’s apartment. And it’s the owner who ultimately pays for those repairs, not FEMA.
But all was not lost. FEMA advised Heyman to apply for a small business administration loan. But SBA had its own hurdles to overcome – and that was enough to trip the Heymans. Their credit score was 650 – too low for the SBA to risk a loan, apparently.
“We’re in real estate,” Heyman said. A “650 credit score is still good enough to get me a mortgage or a car loan at the very least.” We asked the SBA for a variable interest rate. We understand that our credit score is not exactly 800, but we just need to increase the interest a little bit, we need that money. They said no and ultimately denied us.
FEMA eventually found $ 3,000 to give the couple, which the Heymans used to raise their boiler six inches off the ground to prevent damage if another flood occurred. But Joanne and her husband had paid several thousand more, and now it looks like they will lose that money for good.
“Because we have to take care of the house and we have to take care of our tenant, we have a responsibility to them,” Heyman said. “We didn’t wait for approval to start repairing.
Heyman began to wonder how FEMA and the SBA guidelines affected others affected by natural disasters.
“I thought, okay, what about people who have less than me and less than my credit rating? ” she asked. “What if they’re more damaged, you know?” What will they do?”
More so, as the weather continues to worsen due to the effects of climate change, Heyman wondered if the guidelines need to be updated.
“I mean things keep getting worse, they have to reconsider how they decide who gets help and who doesn’t,” she said. “People are going to need help, and they are going to have to change the way they do things.”
FEMA did not respond to requests for comment.