Governor Chris Christie came to the bayshore with members of his cabinet yesterday with a sobering message for residents battered by Superstorm Sandy who a waiting for government assistance to rebuild their homes and to comply with new government imposed requirements for those homes.
New Jersey sustained $37 billion in damage from Sandy. Federal assistance to New Jersey will tap out at between $15 and $20 billion, Christie said.
It’s been 15 months since Superstorm Sandy ravaged New Jersey. The first $1.83 billion in relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been spent or is committed. Another $1.46 billion is being applied for, but it will be another three months at least before that money starts to flow.
The HUD Community Block Development Grants (CBDG) grants are the last resort funding for homeowners and renters/landlords, designed to fill needs not covered by insurance proceeds, FEMA assistance, Small Business Administration loans and other sources.
Before New Jersey receives the $1.46 billion second round of funding, there is a 30 day public comment period on the CDBG Disaster Recovery Action Plan. The public comment period runs through March 5. In Monmouth County, there will be a public hearing on February 13 at Brookdale Community College, Robert J. Collins Arena, 765 Newman Springs Rd, Lincroft from 4pm-7pm. There will be hearing is Atlantic County at Stockton University on February 11 and in Essex County at the New Jersey Institute of Technology on the 12th. Written comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or can be provided by mail to the attention of Gabrielle Gallagher, NJ Department of Community Affairs, 101 South Broad Street, Post Office Box 800, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0800. All comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on March 5, 2014.
When the public comment period is complete, the proposal will be adjusted based upon the comments and then submitted to HUD. HUD has 6o days to review the plan. The money can start to flow.
Of the $1.46 billion, the Christie Administration is proposing to to spend $735 million, just over half, on housing assistance programs. $450 million of that money will go to low and moderate income residents.
- $390 for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program. The first round of RREM funding was $710 million. 5,100 Sandy impacted homeowners have been preliminarily awarded a RREM grant. A preliminary grant is presumably analogous to a present under the Christmas tree. You know its there and you really want it, but you can’t have it till Christmas. The new $390 million will enable 3000 homeowners on the RREM waiting list be moved to the preliminary list and begin the grant process.
- $200 million for the Fund for Restoration of Multi-Family Housing. This funding will be added to the $179 million first round multi-family housing funding for low to moderate income rental housing. To date funding has been committed to 36 affordable housing projects to create nearly 2500 rental units.
- $100 million for New Jersey’s Blue Acres Program, which purchases homes is flood-prone areas and creates natural systems to absorb storm waters from future storms. So far, more than 270 buy-out offers have been made to Sandy impacted homeowners. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said that this funding will enable the state to purchase 300 more homes.
- $25 million for special needs housing. This is added to the $25 million in special need housing from the first round. Funding has been committed to 11 projects for 150 special needs residents.
- $20 million for the Neighborhood Enhancement Program to help stabilize storm-damaged neighborhoods that were previously struggling under the burden of abandoned, foreclosed and vacant properties. To date, nearly $26 million in Neighborhood Enhancement Program funding has been committed to 33 projects to create 170 housing units for low- to moderate-income residents.
$535 million of the $1.46 billion proposal is for infrastructure.
- $210 million for New Jersey’s Energy Resiliency Bank. The funding will go to build “off the grid” power sources for waste water treatment plants, hospitals, shelters, emergency response centers and transit networks.
- $100 million for the Flood Hazard Risk Reduction and Resiliency Measures Program to fund projects that would help protect areas at high risk of storm surge or flooding through such measures as flood walls, pump stations, wetlands restoration, permeable pavement, rain gardens and bio-retention basins.
- $225 million to help government entities meet federal funding match obligations for a variety of recovery and resiliency projects such as repairing or constructing roads, bridges, levees, public buildings, water and sewer treatment plants, power generation and distribution facilities, sand dunes, beaches, telecommunication systems, and recreational facilities.
$110 million is proposed to be awarded to local governments to sustain essential services like police, fire and trash collection ($90 million), demolishing and removing unsafe structures ($10 million), and planning ($10 million).
$5 million is proposed to be spent on marketing campaign to encourage tourism in Sandy impacted areas.
Christie acknowledged the frustration of Sandy impacted residents at the slow turn around time in relief funding. “I get it,” he said and recalled his reaction to the restoration of power during Sandy. ” The people without power didn’t care how much power had been restored.” He said that 15 months after Sandy hit, he spends 40% of is working hours on Sandy recovery. “We’re doing the best we can.”
Christie attributed the delay in relief funding to two factors; 1) In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, billions of dollars were wasted or stolen, resulting in much tighter controls and bureaucracy in disaster relief administration, and 2) he has directed that the bulk of New Jersey’s relief to homeowner go to working class and lower income residents “who need it most” and not to the wealthy who can afford to fund their own recovery. This required that applicants document their financial situations in addition to their property damage, creating a time consuming evaluation process and more bureaucracy.