After Closing On A RREM Grant, DCA Says A New Home For Vietnam Vet Is Not In The Cards
By Art Gallagher
Russell Card Jr removes his “family crest” from his family’s home in Highlands in preparation for demolition . Photo via facebook
A Vietnam Veteran from Highlands and his 65 year-old wife had their expectations of a new home crushed last week when their RREM approved builder informed them that a stop work order had been placed on their project by the Department of Community Affairs, with no explanation. The family had prepared their house for demolition, based upon promises from DCA/RREM, and now fear they will be without a home.
Russell Card, a 72 year-old Vietnam Veteran from Highlands closed on his $150,000 RREM grant on July 28. He put up his $18,000 escrow to cover the difference between the cost of the project and the amount granted. Card, his wife Maureen and son Russell Jr, 35, prepared their home (which was built in the 1890’s and in the family since 1933) for demolition. They moved most of their belongings into a POD on their immaculately maintained property and moved themselves into an apartment the size of the living room in the Bay Avenue house they have lived in since 1986. By mid-September all the utilities were disconnected at the house and it was ready for demolition before their new home would be built. The funding for the new home was the RREM grant, a gap grant of $30,000 from Gap Funding Initiative and $17,762 that was remaining from a $55,000 grant Mrs. Card had received from her employer, CareOne, after Sandy filled their home with eight feet of water on October 29, 2012.
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State Senator Joe Kyrillos came out swinging this afternoon regarding the news that the Department of Housing and Urban Development denied the Christie Administration’s request to allow victims of Superstorm Sandy to continue to rebuild their homes while they are applying for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grants.
Kyrillos implored HUD officials and New Jersey’s congressional delegation to do whatever is necessary to allow Sandy devastated residents to rebuild their lives.
“It’s ridiculous, to say the least, that the people of New Jersey are being denied access to grant money because they are trying to rebuild their lives after the worst storm ever,” Kyrillos said. “The people of my district and the surrounding areas were some of the hardest hit and their federal government should not be hindering their recovery. Our home owners should be able to rebuild as they apply for grant money and I urge our congressional delegation to get to work immediately”
Senator Kyrillos added that the people deserve a reasonable return on their federal tax dollars in the form of Sandy grants.
“A lot of good has come out of the $1.83 billion in initial aid to New Jerseyans, but the reality is that more resources are needed for this state to recover from nearly $37 billion in damages,” Kyrillos said. “New York has received about $4 billion more, so the time is now for HUD officials and our congressmen to turn their eyes to our state.”
The Associated Press reported today that HUD denied a Christie Administration request to waive a rule that all reconstruction work must stop when a property owner applies for RREM grants. The federal government wants be sure that historical structures are protected and that the properties are rebuilt to the new elevation standards. No work that is completed prior to a HUD approval of the plans will be reimbursed with RREM grants, even if the work complies with the standards.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has turned down a request from the Christie Administration that the rule requiring that reconstruction work on homes damaged by SuperStorm Sandy stop upon the homeowner applying for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation(RREM) aid, according to an Associated Press report posted on NJ.com and other outlets.
HUD rules require that the plans for all work on properties receiving RREM grants be evaluated and approved by the government. Work done without the RREM approval is not eligible for reimbursement under the program, even if the work complies with all requirements. This process has created a major logjam is funds being awarded and homes being rebuilt.
In an undated letter obtained late Tuesday by The Associated Press, HUD rejected the state’s request.
HUD says the rules, which have been the source of many complaints from homeowners struggling to rebuild after the October 2012 storm, are intended to make sure historically significant properties aren’t damaged or demolished, and that aid is not duplicated among the numerous Sandy reconstruction programs offered by federal and state governments.
Yolanda Chávez, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for grant programs, wrote to New Jersey Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable listing other reasons why the rule can’t be dropped as well.
“If the construction does not meet elevation requirements and must be undone, resources will be spent with no benefit to the recovery,” she wrote.
If you’re going to Governor Christie’s Town Hall Meeting in Middletown tomorrow, expect to hear about this rule and others as the source of the delay in RREM funding, and as an explanation for why the multi-family projects outside of Sandy impacted areas, notably the Belleville and New Brunswick projects that have been in the news, have been approved while Jersey Shore residents are still waiting and not living at home.
Christie Should Come Clean About RREM Snafus At Town Hall Meeting
The Christie Administration has terminated a contract with a second company it hired to assist survivors of Superstorm Sandy rebuild their homes, according to a report on WNYC.
Governor Christie announcing a second round of RREM assistance, and that fact that federal assistance to rebuild from Sandy will be $17 billion or more short, in Keansburg last week. Photo by Paul Scharff
URS, a global San Francisco based engineering and construction management firm had a $20 million contract to supervise the rebuilding of New Jersey homes under the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program. The contract has been terminated. Homeowners are being informed by state officials that one of two remaining contractors will now supervise the rebuilding of their homes.
RREM provides $150,000 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to New Jersey residents as “last resort” rebuilding assistance. The federal money is supposed to assist residents who have insufficient funds after insurance, other government assistance and private monies are exhausted. URS was one of three companies hired to supervise home rebuilding, according to the WNYC report. Residents who were working with URS have been assigned to one of the two other contractors. The amount of fees committed to the remaining two contractors has not been reported.
While the Christie Administration has received high marks for its administration of assistance to municipal governments and businesses impacted by Sandy, there is growing criticism and frustration over the repeated delays in getting assistance to homeowners.
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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.