Thanks to Donovan, grant, 86-year-old woman back home after Sandy.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When Bill Owens and his family returned to their Midland Beach home in May, they were coming home to a completely rebuilt house after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the previous one.
The towering, beautiful house with blue siding, stone siding and white trim on Olympia Boulevard was a welcome sight when they entered on Mother's Day after two and a half years living in temporary quarters.
But absent was Owens' mother, 86-year-old Kathleen, unable to navigate the stairs in the multi-story house.
So he turned to Rep. Daniel Donovan and his staff, who turned to Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization, which provided Owens with a $3,000 grant to buy and install a lift to carry his mother up and down the stairs.
In her room on Thursday, Kathleen greeted Donovan with a smile as they chatted about the family, her mobility and having lived in the previous house her whole life.
Later, Owens stood outside his house with Donovan and members of the organization as his wife, daughter and two grandsons watched from the porch behind them.
He used Small Business Association loans, flood insurance proceeds and his own savings to rebuild the house and now must pay $2,200 a year for his flood insurance.
Owens was expecting to pay no more than $500 because he did as he was told and elevated the house 15 feet above sea level.
But he enclosed the ground level and FEMA considers it a basement living quarters, even though it's not built as such but simply as a storage space.
While grateful that his mother is back with the family in the house, he expects his flood insurance to go up to $5,000 in a few years.
He took other measures that the city Building Department required, like putting AC and heating units above a certain height. But no one told him or his builder not to enclose the ground level storage space.
"It was the misinformation, that lack of information, lack of people telling Bill, who was trying to do everything that they asked him to do," Donovan said. "When he submitted his plans, no one told him, 'That is going to cost you $2,200.'"
Donovan said he would like officials to explore creating an advisory unit in the Building Department so that federal and local governments work together to ensure continuity in plans.
"Disaster recovery is a top focus for me down in Washington," Donovan said. "As we speak, my staff is working through legislative ideas to improve the process. I want to be clear. This issue has my full attention but this mess has been decades in the making and we're not going to solve it overnight. Still, piece by piece we can work together to make life a little easier for those who went through this horrible tragedy and to make sure that the process works better for people like Bill and Kathleen the next time a storm occurs."
He added, "In the meantime, please reach out to my office for help. People trying to rebuild should have clear, accurate information about what's necessary and how their work will impact their flood insurance premiums."
While he's hoping to appeal the high rates, Owens is happy to be back in his home with his family, including his mother.
Inscribed in the concrete in his backyard is: "Tough times don't last. Tough people do."