The skies were clear and the air still over Rockaway Park, New York, on October 30, 2012, when a disoriented seagull flew into the lobby window of Robert Burkhardt’s apartment building.
An avid fisherman and surfer, he realized from the bird’s behavior that slow-moving Hurricane Sandy was about to make landfall and he was right in its path. He hurried upstairs to gather wife Meng and three-year-old son Jack to head for safer ground.
Having lived in their co-op beachfront apartment since 2007, the Burkhardts had seen their share of hurricanes, including Irene earlier in 2012, but Sandy would be different. Sandy directly hit the Rockaway Park beachfront, tearing up the boardwalk, washing away train tracks, and caving in buildings. When the storm passed, the Burkhardts’ building had no power or hot water and its lobby was submerged in six feet of water (and left filled with four feet of sand).
The Burkhardts returned, climbing five flights of stairs to reclaim belongings and assess the damage—their apartment, like most in the building, was uninhabitable.
A Difficult Recovery
With little cell reception or access to the Internet, communication with insurance and mortgage companies became challenging. And between paying rent for temporary housing, their mortgage and other bills, money became tight.
Explains Meng: “We kept reaching out to our mortgage company, but not getting the help we needed….We were becoming very frustrated.”
Reaching Out to Fannie Mae
The Burkhardts received a letter from Fannie Mae about a local mortgage help event for homeowners affected by Hurricane Sandy. Even though they could not attend the event, the Burkhardts called the number on the letter on January 30 and were connected with Housing Advisor Bernard Francois in Fannie Mae’s Mortgage Help Center  in Miami.
“Bernard was amazing,” Meng says, “he explained our options and helped us work with our mortgage company.” The Burkhardts’ case was submitted to their mortgage company on February 12 and they signed an agreement for a one-year forbearance on April 16.
A forbearance  temporarily suspends or reduces monthly mortgage payments for a specific period of time. After the forbearance period has ended, the homeowner repays the amount that was reduced or suspended. This can be paid as one lump payment, or the mortgage can be modified , and the delinquent payments moved to the end of the mortgage, lengthening the term of the loan.
In the Burkhardts’ case, Bernard suggested they consider pursuing a modification at the end of the forbearance period. “This arrangement helps the family stay up-to-date with their mortgage payments while the building is being rehabilitated and they can move back,” explains Angelica Vasquez, the manager of the Miami Mortgage Help Center.
Today, the sand is gone, the power has been restored and the elevator is working. If repairs to their apartment stay on schedule, the Burkhardts may be back in by summer. “We’re very thankful for the help we’ve received from Fannie Mae during this difficult time,” says Meng, “we feel blessed to have found Fannie Mae and Bernard Francois.”
As a reminder, Fannie Mae works directly with mortgage servicers to offer special options for homeowners with Fannie Mae loans  who are impacted by natural disasters. Eligible homeowners with a Fannie Mae loan who are experiencing difficulty paying their mortgage may qualify for a:
- forbearance that can suspend or reduce your mortgage payments for up to 12 months if you live in a FEMA declared disaster area.
- suspension of legal actions in process (i.e., foreclosures) in federally designated disaster areas.
Also, homeowners throughout the U.S. with Fannie Mae loans  who are struggling to pay their mortgage can get information and free assistance in person or over the phone at a Fannie Mae Mortgage Help Center .
For more information on Fannie Mae’s disaster assistance, go to www.knowyouroptions.com/relief .