UNION BEACH, N.J. -- Contractors estimated it would cost between $100,000 to $140,000 to repair the damage caused after superstorm Sandy swept feet of water, silt and mud into John Lederer's house.
His insurance gave him $14,000.
Lederer and his wife, Rosemarie, were able to close that gap after a construction manager from Habitat for Humanity of Northeast Monmouth County drove by and offered help rebuilding.
This Habitat affiliate says it is ready and financially able to repair more homes, but no one is signing up for its help.
The nonprofit group best known for its sweat equity home building program for low-income families does help rehab homes - at least 35, in fact, so far this year through its Sandy recovery program.
But officials with Northeast Monmouth Habitat say the only thing keep it from reaching its goal of rehabilitating 100 homes this year is that residents in its area, like Lederer, aren't aware that's among the services the group provides.
"It's a common occurrence," said Ray Gabler, executive director with Northeast Monmouth Habitat. "People think of Habitat for new-home, affordable-home construction."
That's what Lederer thought, too. As the renovations near completion on his home, Lederer said he never would have been at this point without Habitat - and wouldn't have known about it if the construction manager hadn't drive past.
"I said, 'Frankly, I thought you only built new houses,' " Lederer said.
Need is there
The chapter has a glut of volunteers - "more than we can place right now," Gabler said - as well as several significant grants from Carnival Cruise Lines, The Robin Hood Foundation and other corporate groups, but not enough low-income homeowners who have applied for their assistance.
But officials know the need is there. Gabler estimated that 80 percent of the Sandy damage in Monmouth County hit this Habitat affiliate's territory, which runs from Raritan Bay to Deal Road, from the coast to roughly the Garden State Parkway.
Gabler said his nonprofit group has been trying to reach out those in need by attending Sandy resources fairs, meeting with other organizations assisting storm victims and even going door to door in hard-hit areas.
Applicants have to prove they are homeowners and that they meet income guidelines. Four a family of four, the cap is $65,750 annually.
Gabler said any insurance payments must be used first toward rehab costs, such as material and certain plumbing and electrical work that must be done by licensed contractors, and Habitat recommends residents seeking help also apply for all available federal assistance.
Habitat also asks that any able-bodied family members help with the renovation, Gabler said.
After that, Habitat pulls from its various grant streams to cover construction costs.
Costs for help
So far, the homes rehabilitated so far have cost anywhere from a high of about $20,000 down to zero out-of-pocket costs. Early projects, Gabler said, benefited from towns that offered wallboards and other supplies to residents.
Leslie Morris of Sea Bright said she had always been aware of Habitat for Humanity but found out more about them after Sandy sent waves of water through her Ocean Avenue ranch, leaving huge piles of sand nestled around it.
"My insurance denied me, so I was in a terrible spot," she said.
Volunteers at borough hall helped Morris fill out the applications, and soon after she got a call from Habitat saying they could help.
Habitat volunteers have been at Morris' home over the last few weeks, shoveling sand away from the home so it could be carted off, capping sewer lines and doing other work to prepare the home, which suffered structural damage, for demolition.
Habitat will be rebuilding her home, Morris said, but she's waiting to hear on her federal aid applications so she knows how to move forward.
"We're all waiting to see what happens with that, economically speaking, so I know which way I'm going to go: use the grants or take a mortgage out to pay for it," she said.
Other Habitat affiliates across the Jersey Shore also have rehabilitation programs, both for Sandy-damaged homes and other low-income homeowners who just need help with needed home repairs.
Northern Ocean Habitat executive director Suzan Fichtner said her agency's home repair project was already well-known because of its A Brush With Kindness program, which has helped low-income homeowners in northern Ocean County tackle home repair and renovations projects for at least three years.
So the nonprofit group was able to use its already existing awareness efforts to let the public know about Bringing Families Home, the Sandy-focused arm of its rehab work.
"The premise is we are not going to have families waiting a year, year and a half, two to get home," she said. "We are going to do the best we can with the resources we have."
Northern Ocean Habitat has received grants from Robin Hood Foundation and first lady Mary Pat Christie's Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund to help rehabilitate homes.
Applications are coming in to use those grant dollars, but many of them - 22 of the 48 it had so far - were incomplete, missing essential items like deeds or proof of income, Fichtner said.
The reason, she said, might be from applicants' frustration with the extensive forms they have to fill out for insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other assistance funding.
"It's just so much paperwork they have to do with everyone," she said.
But at the same time, the nonprofit has to do its due diligence to make sure its grant dollars are correctly spent.
For Lederer, the Union Beach man who gives Habitat all of the credit for his home repairs, said he has to do his due diligence, too: letting everyone he meets know about the organization.
"There are still people who are completely devastated," he said. "If it wasn't for them, I would still be in limbo right now."