Sandy's stormy legacy: Shore Up loans could help Fairfielders still struggling

Shoreline residents grappling with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago learned Thursday about a new state program designed to help them elevate their homes.

But several attendees of the Shore Up CT forum said it wasn't clear how the loan program would work for people who filed applications for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the aftermath of the October 2012 storm that wreaked havoc in the town's shoreline neighborhood. The gathering took place in the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

"A lot of people are trying to understand ... how the FEMA program and this program intersect in terms of financing," Gordon Earle of Fairfield said after Thursday's 90-minute forum, attended by two dozen people. "There were more questions raised than answers provided at this point."

"For many of us, it's a wait-and-see," Earle said.

Kyle Cunningham, who lives on Reef Road, said the forum was useful, but he was a little surprised that the presenters weren't sure how the FEMA grant and Shore Up CT loan would interact. "They've got to all coordinate," he said of state and federal officials. But Cunningham added of state officials, "They want to help. That's a good thing."

First Selectman Micheal Tetreau said 70 residents are still waiting to hear if they will receive grant money from FEMA, while the Fairfield Beach neighborhood is "still a construction zone."

"It's better than it was 12 months ago, but it's a long way from finished," Tetreau said.

The central question related to FEMA and Shore Up appears to be whether residents could pay the Shore Up loan back with money from a FEMA grant.

Under the Shore Up CT program, houses would have to be elevated at least one foot above the 500-year flood height elevation. The houses also must be in FEMA's flood zone classifications of VE or AE.

Assistant Town Planner James Wendt said most homes in Fairfield's AE zone would have to be elevated to 14.75 feet to qualify for the Shore Up program, while homes in the VE zone east of Reef Road would have to be elevated to 17.25 feet. Homes in the VE zone west of Reef Road would have to be elevated to 19.75 feet, according to Wendt. Residents can learn whether their home is in an AE or VE zone by consulting the town's Zoning Department.

Elevations required by the Shore Up program are higher than elevations required by the town, but Emmeline Harrigan, the program manager, said, "Higher is safer."

"Today's 500-year flood [zone] is really going to be tomorrow's 100-year flood zone," Harrigan said. "You're really making a significant investment ... We want to make sure that investment has longevity."

Raising a house to the 500-year flood zone elevation, plus an extra foot, also will lower flood insurance premiums paid by residents, Harrigan said. "The higher you go by every single foot, the lower your flood insurance premium gets every year," she said.

Nevertheless, Harrigan later said, "It may be, based on our height requirement, that this program doesn't work for everybody."

Commercial buildings also are eligible for the Shore Up program, but their required elevation is based on the 100-year base flood event, plus an extra foot.

And the Shore Up program is also available to homeowners who want to refinance homes that already have been elevated and that have a certificate of occupancy. Those elevations must have been completed between Oct. 29, 2012 (the date of Superstorm Sandy) and July 28, 2014 (the date Shore Up CT launched), Harrigan said.

Under the Shore Up program, qualified homeowners can borrow from $10,000 to $300,000 at a 2.75 percent fixed interest rate (2.894 percent annual percentage rate) over the life of the 15-year loan. The origination fee would be 1 percent.

Based on a loan amount of $125,000, the borrower would pay 168 monthly payments of $897.29, according to Shore Up documents available at the forum. A borrower would not be required to make any principal or interest payments for the first 12 months, according to the documents.

The state legislature approved up to $25 million for the Shore Up program and the state Bond Commission has released $3 million so far, Harrigan said. She said the state has fielded 105 phone calls about it since the program was launched.

To qualify for Shore Up, elevation projects have to be "shovel ready," meaning residents will have upfront, out-of-pocket costs for design, plans and approvals, but those costs would be covered as reimbursements in the Shore Up program, according to Harrigan.

"Our loan is advanced in stages as you progress with the work," said Robert E. Coulombe Jr., residential lending manager with the state Housing Development Fund.

Eligible costs in Shore Up include surveying and engineering design, local and state approvals and permitting, site preparation and excavation, lifting and foundation, utility disconnection and reconnection, stairs, railings and code-required landings, existing decks and porches, gutters and leaders, soil stabilization and final site cleanup, according to Harrigan.

Ineligible costs include additions (except utility rooms) or sheds, new decks or porches, aesthetic improvements, repair or replacement of utility service components that are undersized, inadequately designed or unsafe, unless required by code, exterior finishes on the exposed foundation of an elevated building and landscaping for ornamental reasons, unless such landscaping is required by the state Historic Preservation Office.

The Shore Up program requires participating homes to be reviewed by the state Historic Preservation Office and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Harrigan said. The former review is needed for homes at least 50 years old, as well as those that are near Native American settlements or burial sites and other archaeological sites, Harrigan said.

Participation in Shore Up CT requires an application and self-reported financial information from an applicant that includes annual income, mortgage balance, annual taxes and insurance on the property, consumer debt and an approximate credit score. The uniform residential loan application, which would come later, requires two years' worth of pay stubs, W2s, tax returns and business tax returns, two months' worth of bank statements and a Social Security and pension award letter.

"Don't worry if it all seems like a lot," Harrigan said. "We're going to get through it together if you decide to make a full application to the program." An application deadline does not exist at this time, she said.

Evonne Klein, commissioner of the state Department of Housing, said the Shore Up program was instituted to help fill gaps in federal programs. "We do have a number of different federal programs ... but those programs have left gaps for folks. We're not helping everyone we possibly could with these federal programs," she said.

For information on the new state program, check the website,