In Breezy Point, N.Y., a coastal enclave hard-hit by Sandy, homeowner Jim Kelly has made a similar calculation. So far, Kelly has spent $104,000 to raise his home to 8.5 feet, with more work to go. He and his wife have used savings and dipped into their 401(k) plans to help cover construction costs, which are expected to reach $220,000.
For Kelly, raising his property has been expensive, time-consuming and stressful, but he said he is just anxious to move his wife Samantha and their 5-year-old son Aiden back home, hopefully by Thanksgiving. "It's definitely been rough, to say the least," he said.
Some Sandy survivors are finding the hassle and cost of complying with the new guidelines to be insurmountable.
When FEMA released the early version of the flood maps, John "Jack" Thompson, a 70-year-old mechanical engineer, discovered that his small ranch home in Toms River would have to be raised from six to 14 feet and placed on pilings. If he didn't comply, he learned, his future annual flood insurance could skyrocket to about $31,000. (FEMA has adjusted that estimate to more than $20,000.)
Though FEMA eased the rebuilding requirements for his neighborhood in June, the value of Thompson's home has plummeted from around $400,000 to $10,000, according to a county tax assessment. He is contemplating using his flood insurance payments to pay off his mortgage, tear his home down and leave. The storm's aftermath, Thompson said, has left him financially "dead" and his dreams of retirement postponed.
Meanwhile, half of the homes around him are empty, about ten have been demolished and many are for sale. "It's depressing. I really hate to think about it," he said of the changes in his once lively neighborhood situated on tiny lagoons.
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Some government aid is available to homeowners trying to meet the new guidelines. New Jersey will provide grants of up to $150,000, a FEMA-funded grant will offer $30,000, and those insured by the NFIP can receive up to another $30,000. New York City said it would also give money to homeowners to elevate their properties through Department of Housing (HUD) funds.
But according to Marc Roy, chief of staff for FEMA's Louisiana operations in 2006-07, such grant programs don't always work. He criticized "The Road Home," a HUD program administered in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as having had "limited success."
"That program was marked by all kinds of cost overruns and mismanagement and pretty much has faded from view," said Roy, an adjunct professor at Tulane University's Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. (According to HUD, nearly 130,000 residents—or 99 percent of eligible applicants—had received more than $8.9 billion from the program.)
When homeowners struggle to pay for repairs to their storm-damaged properties, some foreclose and leave, devastating the local housing market, said Roy, whose New Orleans neighborhood experienced about ten foreclosures post-Katrina. "Responsible people are having their whole lives ruined … as a result of both the natural catastrophe and the man-made part of the catastrophe, which is poor assistance being available to those who have really worked for it," he said.
Faller and his wife Karen Spanover, 46, aren't waiting for government aid. In January, the couple decided to give up their home in Toms River, believing that investing tens of thousands of dollars to comply with FEMA's new rules would not be worth it in their struggling neighborhood. They've asked their bank to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure, in which they would hand their home back to the lender.
Faller said he tried to see the tough choice as a business decision, while Spanover said it was ultimately one of "survival."
"We've been fighting for so long," Spanover said. "Every time we see light at the end of the tunnel it kind of closes. We're definitely still hoping for the best."
—By Miranda Leitsinger, NBC News