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CBS 2 Exclusive: Sandy Victims Can’t Get Funds From Mortgage Company To Finish Repairs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It has been 19 months since Superstorm Sandy hit the Tri-State Area, but the rebuilding process has been painfully slow.

And as CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported exclusively Monday, thousands have claimed they are being short-changed when it comes to getting the insurance money they need.

“It’s been frustrating not to get any help from anybody from being out of my home for 19 months,” said homeowner Dawn Rongo of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn.

For Rongo and her husband, Vinny, it has been agonizing and infuriating, trying to figure out why they cannot get their Sandy-ravaged home rebuilt.

“No idea — just want to go home,” said Vinny Rongo. “Just want to go home.”

But the Rongo family has been tied up in red tape. The Sandy storm surge sent a wall of water across Gerritsen Beach – reaching the top of the Rongos’ window.

Now, they have had it with their mortgage company. Paradoxically, they cannot get the remaining money to finish repairs on their house, unless they finish repairs on their house.

“They released $60,000 to us, and there’s $23,000 still in escrow — which they were not going to release until the house is 100 percent complete,” Vinny Rongo said. “How can I complete it if I don’t have the money?”

On top of that, the city Department of Buildings has slapped the Rongos with $4,500 in fines for doing construction without a permit.

“We were told because we were Sandy victims, we did not meet permits,” Dawn Rongo said.

But the Buildings Department said that exemption only goes so far, and the Rongos were well beyond its scope.

“Every day, it’s something different,” Vinny Rongo said. “It’s more like they’re trying to keep us away from the house than getting home.”

People in the industry said money gets released over time to make sure the job gets done right.

After CBS 2 spoke to the Rongos’ mortgage company, the company said an inspector to the home on Monday and said it will work with the Rongos to see what additional funds can be released.

But even when the Rongos do finish repairs on their house, the work will not be done. The Rongos will have to raise the house by 6 feet.

That action is required to get flood insurance, and thousands of others are in the same boat.

For now, the Rongos have been living in the basement of Vinny Rongo’s mother’s house in Queens, as they wait.

“It’s frustrating to want to come home and you can’t, and sometimes, you say: ‘You know what? Maybe we should just walk away.’ I’ll be honest,” Dawn Rongo said. “But this is my home. I don’t want to walk away.”

The organization Gerritsen Beach Cares said 180 homes in the area are vacant and untouched since the storm.

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