Sea Bright homes being elevated last June. Officials estimate 80 percent of the town’s homes are still vacant. Below, Chris Wood, flanked by Pete Forlenza and Zack Rosenburg, addresses a gathering in Rumson Tuesday night. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Yes, the business district has seen a welcome comeback. “But 80 percent of the homes on the side streets of Sea Bright are still vacant,” said Wood, a co-founder of Sea Bright Rising, a nonprofit that has raised and distributed close to $1.3 million in donated funds to some 300 families and 17 businesses in town since Hurricane Sandy hit.
Now, though, Sea Bright Rising is partnering with another nonprofit born in the aftermath of a hurricane, with the goal of rebuilding as many as 100 homes in Sea Bright, Rumson and Highlands – at no charge to those homeowners.
The partner is the St. Bernard Project, which was launched in New Orleans in response to housing needs created by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Since then, the organization, which relies on a mix of volunteers and paid managers to eliminate the need for contractors and subcontractors, has enlisted some 50,000 volunteers to rehabilitate 530 homes in five states.
Addressing about three dozen attendees at an informal cocktail party at the Salt Creek Grille in Rumson Wednesday night, St. Bernard Project founder Zack Rosenburg said the organization would dedicate 16 full-time volunteers from Americorps as well as six paid staffers to rebuild up to 100 homes beginning next month.
Ilene Winters of Sea Bright Rising said hammers would be swinging as soon as March 20 on some of the first 15 Sea Bright homes identified as immediate subjects in the borough, with 35 or so to follow. In affected areas in Rumson, there are about 20 homes under consideration, she said.
The criteria for inclusion in the program are that the homeowner cannot afford to pay market rates to contractors but could afford to live in the house again after it’s been fixed up, said Kelly Riordan, a St. Bernard Project staffer.
Wood said Sea Bright Rising will serve as a funding arm of the effort, which he expects will cost $2.5 million to $3 million. Most immediately, though, the organization needs to raise $100,000 to get started, he said.
A seed donation of $25,000 toward that target was made by someone who “may or may not be in this room,” Wood said.
The effort will set up an office on River Street, a street on which every home vacated as a result of Sandy remains vacant, said Pete Forenza, who co-founded Sea Bright Rising with Wood and Winters and is Wood’s partner in Woody’s Ocean Grille.
“This is still important,” Forlenza said. “There are still a lot of people in need.”
More information about where to donate and contributing materials and sweat equity may be found on the Sea Bright Rising and web pages.