Jane Porter speaks with great animation in a pronounced Queens accent, emphasizing points with forceful gestures. Sitting in her large, sparsely decorated living room near the beach in Rockaway Park, she laughs readily, revealing a wry sense of humor. “I talk to the manager every day,” she says flashing a smile, “and I said to her recently, ‘I talk to you more than I talk to my mother. I’ve got to hang up now and call my mother!’” Her laughter fills the room.
Porter, 36, is about 5-foot-2, with a firm handshake and a no-nonsense manner. She and her husband, both avid beachcombers, bought their home in 2010. In a twist that would have been unbelievable in a novel, the couple discovered after moving in that the condo was built on land near where Porter’s grandmother used to live.
Porter joined the board of her condominium, the Belle Shores, soon after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Rockaway peninsula in October 2012. Porter’s apartment – one of seventy-eight in the complex’s six buildings – is a few hundred yards from the ocean. Although all Belle Shores buildings were badly damaged by the storm, Porter’s was among twenty-six evacuated.
Habitat: Pam DeLorme, your managing agent at Delkap, says you were relentless about finding money to make the buildings whole again.
Porter: When you’re in a situation like this, your world stops. It seems so hopeless: you’re coming back to a roomful of mud. I had to do something. My sister and I grew up in a railroad apartment in Glendale, Queens – my mother worked in advertising, and my father was a computer guy – and we didn’t have much, but they taught us that there’s always a solution. I always want to make things better. This is my first condo. I had no idea what I was doing. I picked up on a lot of the plumbing, electrical, all that stuff from being on-site with the project manager, the contractors, and the foremen. After the storm, I walked every unit. I pointed out problems that I saw. I made up lists. I followed up. I was really quite annoying.
Habitat: How did you search for money?
Porter: We were underinsured, so we had to get an SBA [Small Business Administration] loan. When I went to Build It Back [a city grant program for hurricane victims], their first response was to say, “No – you’ve got money from your insurance and the SBA.” But we didn’t – we had to pay SBA back, and we were underinsured. But I kept after them. Eventually, they said we could apply but told me I had to get proof of our expenses; that meant going to six different accounts at three different banks, getting canceled checks, and explaining what work had been completed with each check. I had to go through boxes and boxes.
Build It Back also went through many changes. Every time somebody new took over the program, they had new regulations. We signed on for a $3.2 million grant in December, so hopefully in March we’re going to have money to fix the exterior of the buildings. In addition to minor roof work, we also have interior work and minor plumbing work that we’re going to do. The place is really going to be revitalized.
I also appealed to FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], and we received additional FEMA money. With the money from the insurance and the SBA, all the “A” units had the subfloors removed and replaced, had the firewalls removed and redone, all the basements, bathrooms, and kitchens – everything was removed and installed new. We did mold remediation. It was very extensive.
Habitat: What was the board doing?
Porter: We had different board members doing different things. We had unit-owners who weren’t on the board helping as well. During reconstruction, there were three unit-owners who were a significant force in the rebuilding.
Habitat: What did you learn from the experience?
Porter: You really have to be on top of it all. You have to follow up on everything – that’s crucial. I had my lists and checked things off as they got done. You have to feel that, in your heart, you know you can do this. I did. I knew I could make things better. You have to stick to it, and you have to be ready to jump through hoops. There were many times when I got frustrated and said, “I am done. I’m not doing this anymore.” But the next morning, I woke up, shook it off, and did whatever they wanted me to do.
(“Jane Porter” is a pseudonym for a board member who spoke with us about her experiences at Belle Shores Condominium.)
In “Community: Faith and Planning” (February 2018), two titles were incorrect. Diana Virrill is the chairwoman of the Cooperative & Condominium Council of Westchester. David Guerrara, the property manager, works for Garthchester Realty. Habitat regrets the errors.