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State Buyouts a Tough Choice for Graham Beach Residents

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TWC News: State Buyouts a Tough Choice for Graham Beach Residents
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After being included in a state buyout for Sandy-damaged homes, residents in one Staten Island community say there is still not enough information to know whether the plan is right for them. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.

For Graham Beach homeowner Eileen Pepel, summertime is the best time of year. Living right across the street from the beach she looks forward to leaving her windows open and letting the sea breeze and sounds fill her home. But this year, all the windows are shut.

"Vacant down there, vacant over there, we have weeds to the sky, we have mosquitoes that could carry us away," Pepel said.

While many in her neighborhood didn't bother coming back, Pepel and her family returned to their storm damaged home more than a year ago. She's now one of about 130 Graham Beach residents who qualify for the state buyout.

An appraiser has already come to estimate the value of the home that, under Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan, can be purchased by the state for its pre-storm value, minus any insurance pay outs or federal loans. The house would then be knocked down and the land preserved. For the Pepels, deciding whether to take the buyout isn't an easy choice.

"We need to know what will happen to us if we choose to stay in an enhanced state buyout area," Pepel said.

Staying may make the most sense because the Pepels' mortgage is paid off, and they've already spent about a hundred thousand dollars on repairs. Raising their house through the city's Build it Back program is an option.

"I'm skeptical about Build it Back for a number of reasons. The rules have been changing constantly. If you go into the office and ask them a question, they say I'm afraid to answer that because I don't know the updates," Pepel said.

The Pepels want to stay on Staten Island, and recently visited some open houses in the area. With housing prices on the rise and a limited housing stock, the Pepels say they fear if they take the buyout and try to buy a new home, they will be priced out of their borough.

"I can't put myself in debt for another $500,000 to buy another house," Pepel said.

The Pepels have to hear back from the appraiser before they can decide whether to take the buyout or try elevate their home. Meantime, they say they'll try to make the most of their summer.

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