Democratic gubernatorial candidate visits post-Sandy sites - By Steve Moran, Asbury Park Press
STAFFORD – A Democratic hopeful for his party’s nomination for Governor of New Jersey in 2017 took a bus tour Saturday with a group of impacted homeowners to sections of Manahawkin still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski’s (D-19) office contacted the New Jersey Operating Project (NJOP), a local grassroots advocacy and lobbying group, after meeting two members at a Town Hall-style meeting at Stockton University last month, said NJOP co-founder, Joe Mangino.
He and co-founder Amanda Devecka-Rinear set up the meeting at Mangino’s house, followed by the bus tour.
The NJOP is a regional network of people standing up for South Jersey and the Shore after Sandy by working together to pass policies that make life better, change institutions, hold corporations accountable and ensure elected officials stand with their constituents, according to its Website.
Wisniewski sat in Mangino’s living room in Beach Haven West with about a dozen other NJOP members discussing health care, pensions and the local economy.
But most importantly, Wisniewski he wanted to hear about their post-Sandy experiences and ideas for moving forward.
The candidate listened as people told him their stories of trying to, or finally, getting back home while dealing with all the financial, physical and mental hardships, let alone the infinite levels of state and federal bureaucracy after the storm.
On the top of their list was that many had recently received “clawback” letters from the state’s Department of Consumers Affairs (DCA) demanding the return of grant money they were awarded through the federally funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program.
According to the DCA, when a homeowner prepares to close out of the RREM program, DCA completes a final review of their grant to make sure all work eligible for grant funds has been documented and included in the grant award calculation.
If not, the unused or unaccounted for funds must be returned.
The NJOP and other advocates feel in many cases the clawback happens because paperwork is missing from the audits or guidelines have not been followed properly by the state.
“I spent the last four years fighting to get my life back to normal. And when I finally did, this letter shows up,” said one Little Egg Harbor resident who asked not to be identified.
Julie Suarez, also of Little Egg Harbor said she initially was told her family needed to return $52,000 to the state. But the detailed spreadsheet that came with the letter did not come close her family’s actual costs.
After an appeal, the amount was cut in about half and she was offered a payment plan. “I’m struggling to make my mortgage and they want $715 a month. I don’t have it,” she said.
Wisniewski was given a folder with copies of several of the letters the group’s members had received.
Before boarding the shuttle bus, Wisniewski said the clawbacks should be eliminated. “They cause more hardship and misery than the money they are worth. People shouldn’t be punished for trying to get back home,” he said.
The shuttle bus, provided by the owners of Old Causeway and Mud City Crab House restaurants in Manahawkin, drove out to East Point, on to Cedar Bonnet Island and then past Mud City (Mallard Island).
Wisniewski sat up front with Mangino and Dan Quinn, who he met with Suarez at Stockton, acting as tour guides.
Quinn said while many of the homes in Beach Haven West that were damaged or destroyed have been raised or new ones built up on pilings, there were still many sitting on ground level slabs.
With climate change and rising sea levels, those homes will just be caught up in the same cycle next time, he said.
There needs to be resiliency planning and infrastructure changes to mitigate the damage caused by future storms, Quinn told Wisniewski.
Several of those ground level homes are also still empty, Quinn said. “There were lots of elderly people who retired here and blue-collar workers,” he said.
After Sandy, their insurance did not cover the cost of the damage. Plus, they did not have the money to rebuild or wait out the long process of getting RREM money, so they “walked away,” he said.
That has had a direct impact on the local small business owners as the area changes from a year-round community to summer homes, said Mangino.
Suarez said the same is true in her Mystic Island neighborhood in Little Egg Harbor Township. “There are at least eight empty houses within a two-minute walk of my house,” she said.
She also advocated for strong mitigation and resiliency programs.
Suarez said she read a study by the Rutgers Jacques Cousteau Coastal Research Center in Tuckerton that has predicted Mystic Island will be underwater by 2030, under current conditions.
“Then what am I supposed to do?” she asked.
At Devecka-Rinear’s home on Cedar Bonnet Island, Wisniewski saw first-hand how bad the situation could easily and quickly become much worse.
It was high tide and the bay water was only about a foot below the top of her bulkhead.
“This is only after a day of heavy rain, you can imagine what could happen with the next major storm,” she said.
Using a depth marker in front of her house for a reference, she pointed out the water came to about 6.5 feet above the street during Sandy.
Circling back to Mangino’s house via Bay Avenue, Wisniewski saw that most of the “Mud City” coastal marsh was submerged and the residential streets beyond were flooded at the high tide.
At the end of the tour, Wisniewski said in addition to eliminating the clawbacks, what he learned was there needs to be the development of comprehensive mitigation plans, including the buyouts of homes in flood-prone areas and affordable ways to raise homes.
Also, resiliency actions for the infrastructure such as power and roads. We can’t just have a patchwork of ideas, we need an overall plan, he said.
Most importantly, the state needs to recognize climate change is real, said Wisniewski. “It has been ignored or denied for the past seven years and that can’t go on,” he said.
Most of those on the bus signed Wisniewski's petition to get on the June Democratic primary ballot, but Mangino said the NJOP was not making a formal endorsement at this time based on a single meeting with only a few of the hundreds of NJOP members present.
“I personally liked his ideas for health care and fixing the state’s pension fund,” he said.
Mangino also believes the Assemblyman realizes that there needs to be a statewide plan of resiliency and mitigation to address climate change and future storms.
The NJOP website is at www.newjerseyop.org.
Wisniewski's campaign site is at wiz2017.com.
Both have Facebook and Twitter pages.
Local activists continue ‘the movement’ - By Steve Moran, Asbury Park Press
Political activism has been on the rise across the country since last year’s national elections, and Southern Ocean County is no exception.
Following a trip to the Women’s March on Washington the day after the presidential inauguration last month, organizer Christine Rooney, of Ship Bottom, said: “This is not just about a march, but the beginning of a movement.”
A movement not about who or what people are against but for important issues like health care, environmental protection, Social Security, anti-discrimination, funding for the arts and world peace, said Rooney.
Last Wednesday night Amanda Devecka-Reiner ( co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) along with Joe Mangino of Manahawkin) and others attended a candlelight vigil in front of Rep Frank LoBiondo’s (R-2) office, while others did the same at Congressman Tom MacArthur’s (R-3) Toms River and Marlton offices to urge them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cost millions their healthcare coverage, or to makes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
The vigils are planned for every Wednesday night from 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. for the foreseeable future, she added.
There are social media sites calling for vigils across the country.
LoBiondo’s office is located at 5914 Main St #103, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. MacArthur’s Ocean County Office is in the Township of Toms River Town Hall, 33 Washington St. Toms River, NJ 08753. He also has an office in Burlington County at the Gibson House Community Center, 535 East Main Street, Marlton, NJ 08053.
On on their return, Devecka-Reiner said, “What I've learned from more than 20 years as a community organizer - no matter who is in office and no matter what party - community members have to stand up and fight for what is right.”
Prior to last month, NJOP was solely dedicated to aiding the victims of Superstorm Sandy in their ongoing struggles.
They have now added healthcare and climate change to their agenda, said Mangino.
The Project held two “kick-off” meetings late last month one in Stafford Township and another in Brick for people to learn how to get actively involved in working for these issues.
The meetings drew more than 100 people combined, said Mangino.
They addressed people’s economic security and dignity with the potential loss of healthcare coverage for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents and a “shore keeper” strategy, to deal with future extreme weather and sea level rise, he said.
They learned how they can take action on those issues as well as the ongoing problems people are still faced with after Sandy, added Mangino.
The following week a group local residents headed to Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s (R-2) offices to protest the President and Congress’s plan to eliminate the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA).
The group was comprised primarily of first-time activists, said organizer Karlyn Ippolito, of Surf City, who traveled to Cape May Courthouse with 15 men, women and a child from LBI and the mainland.
LoBiondo’s district includes LBI and the southern part of Stafford Township on down through the county and beyond.
Among the group was Sari McGovern, of Manahawkin, who said the repeal of the ACA would be catastrophic to her and many more people.
Diagnosed with mononucleosis in 2005, she has developed other maladies due to a weakened immune system, including a heart condition and fibromyalgia, she said.
“I may wind up in the hospital around three times a year for my heart,” she said. “If they eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, I don’t what I would do.”
“I would certainly drown (in debt) if I wound up in an assigned risk pool,” said McGovern.
She said they wanted to ask the congressman to work to fix the current system, to make it a better plan, not scrap the program with no replacement in sight, said McGovern.
According to a statement from Ippolito, “We were greeted very kindly at the office and were ushered into the conference room where we met with Linda Hinckley, Congressman LoBiondo's District Director. We spent about an hour discussing our concerns with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”
Many of them like McGovern shared their personal stories, she added.
They ended their meeting by presenting a letter signed by them all and requesting a face to face meeting with the Congressman either locally or in Washington D.C.
If not he would hold town hall meetings so that people could ask him questions directly, she added.
The group was told by Hinckley, LoBiondo would not be back in the district until next month, and it is too soon to begin setting up appointments for March. To see him in Washington could only be arranged by his appointment secretary there, said Ippolito
They were also told that LoBiondo holds tele-town halls, teleconferences of 30,000-40,000 people who may then ask questions, she added.
“Our impression was that while Ms. Hinckley was unfailingly polite, there was no sign of anything changing,” said Ippolito.
“All we got was lip service,” was how McGovern summed it up.
The group was not the first area residents to protest at the Congressman’s office.
A few days after the President signed his executive order on Jan. 27 banning residents from several Muslim countries from entering the country, Tuckerton's Valerie Vaughn and other locals joined a protest in front of LoBiondo’s office in Cape May Courthouse that she had learned about through social media.
Vaughn said while the ban did not directly affect her it was something she felt was not only unfair but illegal.
She and others she called “baby-boomers” from all over South Jersey who apparently also had no personal stake in the issue showed up for the same reasons, she said.
They soon were joined by people who had driven in from urban areas like Atlantic City, including a city councilman and clergy members, she said. There were also many Muslims in the crowd, she added.
The Iman of the one Atlantic City’s mosques spoke to the crowd and then held a prayer service in front of the Congressman’s office, she said. Vaughn recorded the speech and posted it on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNbVNkWitT0
After the service Vaughn, a well-known singer/songwriter, said she just broke out into singing Bob Marley’s “One Love” and soon the whole crowd joined in.
Afterward, a Muslim man wearing his working clothes and boots came up to her with tears in his eyes thanking her and saying he has always loved reggae music.
“It was a spiritually enlightening afternoon. It was evident how threatened they feel. A sweet little woman with a head scarf (hijab) hugged us with tears in her eyes to thank us for coming to support them,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
NJOP will hold two more regional kickoff meetings on Sat. Feb. 25th from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Ventnor Library, 6500 Atlantic Ave., Ventnor City NJ, 08406 and Sun. Feb. 26th from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Middletown Library 55 New Monmouth Road Middletown, NJ 07748.
For more information visit http://newjerseyop.org/
Passing of foreclosure law good news for Stafford homeowner - By Steve Moran, Asbury Park Press
STAFFORD – For Joe Karcz standing on the porch of his yet to be completed home in Beach Haven West, the recently- enacted mortgage forbearance act came just in time.
Karcz’s original single story home had taken more than three feet of water during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and needed to be demolished so that he could begin rebuilding.
While his home was gone, his mortgage wasn’t. Until recently he was struggling to keep up with the $1,400 a month payments, while two different contractors failed to complete the work, said Karcz, a union steamfitter who is currently on disability.
He said he has had to move more than a dozen times and is still not close to getting a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) for his home.
“They built the Empire State Building in a year and 45 days, but I can’t get a 1,500 sq. ft. home finished in three and a half years,” said Karcz.
Under the new bill, he can now apply to the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for protection from foreclosure until at least 2019.
Karcz qualifies to apply for the forbearance since he was awarded a grant from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program (RREM). The program administered by the DCA, was set up to provide homeowners with a portion of the more than $1.5B in federal aid New Jersey received shortly after Sandy to repair or rebuild their primary residences.
If granted the forbearance, he and others who qualify will have additional months added to the life of their current mortgage and will not incur any additional fees and face no penalty for early repayment should they be able to do so.
Governor Chris Christie reluctantly signed the bill last week after vetoing a similar measure last year.
“While he (Christie) was running around the country trying to be President, so many people lost their homes to the banks and mortgage companies,”Karcz said.
Despite being one of the first to register for the RREM grants, he did not receive the funding to demolish his house until January of 2015.
The demo work and subsequent construction was to be done by a registered and approved RREM contractor, Karcz said.
“I failed seven inspections for everything from electrical to plumbing work done by him and sub-contractors,” he added.
Karcz, who has been on disability since before Sandy, and should have had two knee replacement years ago, now has a four inch step up from his living room to his kitchen.
He showed where the contractor built his rear deck too high and installed a sliding door. Then raised the kitchen floor to match the deck and door elevation.
Shortly after, he fired the contractor, who had already cost him all of the REMM funds he received and refused to continue work unless he received more.
Karcz reported him to the DCA, but would not elaborate on what other steps he has or may take.
He said he then took and early draw of $70,000 from his pension to hire a second contractor last July who promised to finish the house in six to eight weeks.
“The withdrawal cost me cost me $20,000 in taxes in penalties before I even could put a dollar into the work,” he said.
Shortly after taking a $9,500 advance on the work, the second contractor just “disappeared,” said Karcz.
“I sent him a registered and certified letter saying I needed to hear from him or I was taking legal action against him,” he said.
He then found out the letter was never picked up.
In addition, the contractor left many of his tools, including power saws and workbenches out in Karcz rear sunroom.
Karcz said that the forbearance will give him a chance to catch his breath and there may even be a light at the end of the tunnel.
He has been an active member of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) founded by local residents Amanda Devecka-Reiner and Joe Mangino, which has been dedicated to aiding the victims of Hurricane Sandy in their ongoing struggles.
NJOP was one of the main lobbying forces behind getting the mortgage relief bill finally signed into law.
Devecka-Reiner recently put him in touch with representatives from A Future With Hope, a non-profit organization run in conjunction with the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey.
According to the Website www.afuturewithhope.org/ they have helped restore 250 Sandy affected homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“I called them and in a couple days they showed up with a case worker, construction manager and budget person,” he said.
They estimated it might take another $50,000 to $70,000 to fix the mistakes and finish my house,” he said.
Karcz said he should have an answer later this week if they will take on his project.
Christie signs bill to give Sandy victims some protection against foreclosure - MaryAnn Spoto, NJ.com
TRENTON -- New Jersey homeowners facing foreclosure while they're still trying to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy now can be protected from losing their homes.
A bill signed Friday by Gov. Chris Christie gives certain homeowners affected by Sandy the potential to ward off foreclosures for up to three years while they try to recover financially from the storm.
In his signing statement, Christie indicated he wasn't completely happy with the bill (S-2300, A-333), which he said was too broadly written to include foreclosures not precipitated by Sandy.
But the signing was welcome news to members of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a grass-roots group of Sandy victims and other housing advocates who have been waiting two years for the governor to take action.
"I'm happy today," said Joe Mangino, co-founder of the project. "It's a relief for us because it's been two long years."
On the eve of the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, some homeowners say the state is not helping them get back in their houses
Last fall, Christie incurred the wrath of Sandy victims at an appearance in Seaside Heights where they complained many were still not home and faced financial ruin because of the state's slow process in disbursing federal Sandy aid to rebuild.
At that time, Christie said he would take another look at the foreclosure bill, but many, including Mangino, said they were skeptical Christie would sign it.
"For all the families struggling to keep their heads above water, there's hope," said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. "Our families, friends, and neighbors deserve better than what they've been forced to endure over the last four years. Because of the hard work and dedication of our legislative leaders, Sandy survivors, and advocates, there will finally be some relief and the chance to rebuild."
The law creates a forbearance period for up to three years for Sandy victims who have either been approved for help through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program or the Low-to-Moderate Income Program or those who have received rental assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damage to their primary residence.
Those approved would receive a certificate of eligibility for mortgage forbearance from the state Department of Community Affairs, allowing them to tack onto the end of their mortgage the months they missed paying during their Sandy recovery.
They would still be responsible for paying their taxes and insurance.
The forbearance period would end when one of the three following scenarios occurs first:
That includes Sandy victims who were facing foreclosure before the storm hit or whose mortgage default problems were unrelated to storm damage. Christie said he didn't want it as part of the law because he said it would cause "mountains of damage" to "our federal funding flow and our state housing market."
"I am very concerned these new requirements may adversely impact the state's recovery efforts, jeopardize federal Sandy funding, increase borrowing costs and ultimately delay Sandy-impacted residents' return to their homes," he wrote.
Calling the bill "sloppily written" and "ill conceived," Christie accused its Democratic sponsors of "politically pandering" to Sandy victims during to get re-elected.
He said that for mortgage forbearance certifications, he is directing the Community Affairs commissioner to give priority to Sandy victims whose foreclosure situations are related to their reconstruction.
"I have chosen to sign it to give Sandy victims the morsels of relief this vanity exercise of a bill offers," Christie wrote in response to the Assembly bill, sponsored by all Democrats.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, many of whose constituents in Monmouth County were hit hard by Sandy, was the only Republican sponsors of the companion bills kicking around in the in the Senate and Assembly for two years.
The new law directs the Community Affairs commissioner to notify Sandy families of their eligibility for those foreclosure protections and to post eligibility information on the department's website.
The commissioner also must notify courts and mortgage lenders of people who are eligible for those protections.
The Department of Community Affairs will be required to extend the completion deadline for projects funded through RREM and LMI, for applicants who can demonstrate the delay was the fault of their builder or because of Community Affairs' delays in approving the builder doing the work. If an application for aid under the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program (TBRA), LMI, or RREM program is denied, Community Affairs would have to provide the applicant with an explanation for the denial, and an explanation for ways to remedy the application.
MaryAnn Spoto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MaryAnnSpoto. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Christie inks law to prevent foreclosure on Sandy-damaged homes - Phil Gregory, NewsWorks
Governor Christie has signed New Jersey legislation to prevent mortgage foreclosures on homes damaged more than four years ago by Superstorm Sandy.
Amanda Devecka-Rinear, who directs the New Jersey Organizing Project founded by those affected by Sandy, said Friday she is relieved the governor approved the measure.
"I am so incredibly glad that we're going to see some relief for families," she said. "I am only sad that this didn't pass even two years ago ... I know as many people as it will help, there are a number of families for whom this is too late."
Christie called the bill sloppily written, ill-conceived, and political pandering by the legislature, but said he signed it to give Sandy victims "morsels of relief."
Under the law, Sandy victims could get a temporary stay of foreclosure proceedings if they are eligible for the Reconstruction Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program or the Low- to Moderate- Income Homeowner's Rebuilding Program but haven't received funds.
Christie, who said he fears some of the requirements might delay recovery efforts and increase borrowing costs, vowed to use his executive authority to repair any damage it could cause.
Devecka-Rinear said the new law could help thousands of families.
"Every day, Sandy-impacted families have been fighting," she said. "We fought for two years for this legislation and it sounds like tomorrow we're going to have to wake up and fight to make sure that the governor doesn't limit its impact. But we're up for it, and we are encouraged."
Chris Christie signs bill to stop Sandy-related foreclosures - Press of Atlantic City
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation aimed at preventing mortgage foreclosures on houses damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Christie, a Republican, called the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature “sloppily written, ill-conceived and politically pandering,” but said he was signing it Friday because it would provide help to some victims.
“We are so thrilled,” said New Jersey Organizing Project co-founder Amanda Deveker-Rinear of the legislation becoming law.
“There are thousands of families still struggling — people who are not home yet and people who are.”
NJOP, based in West Creek, Ocean County has members all over the state but mainly serves Ocean, Monmouth and Atlantic County families. It was formed to help New Jersey families recover after Sandy.
She said the law will especially help those whose homes were damaged who live outside the nine most affected counties, like those in New Gretna, Burlington County.
They could not qualify for aid through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program, or RREM, but can get help with their mortgages through the new law as long as they qualified for rental assistance through FEMA due to Sandy damage.
“It’s a lifeline so people can afford to stay in their homes,” she said.
She said her group will hold an informational meeting on the new law and other issues from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Atlantic County Library branch in Ventnor.
The law requires the state Department of Community Affairs to publicly report where funding tied to grant application denials goes. Christie says he is concerned the requirement could impact recovery efforts or increase borrowing costs.
Under the law, Sandy victims could get a temporary stay of foreclosure proceedings if they are eligible for certain programs but haven’t received funds.
Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, and the Governor’s Office estimates 365,000 buildings were damaged, based on the number of insurance claims.
The Fair Share Housing Center says 40,500 primary residences and 15,600 rental units sustained “severe” or “major” damage in the storm.
For Sandy victim homeowners currently in foreclosure litigation and eligible to receive relief funds, homeowners could apply for a stay of proceedings.
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Christie rips Sandy foreclosure protection bill — but signs it into law - Michael Symons, NJ 101.5
Gov. Chris Christie today signed a bill into law that creates protections against foreclosures for owners of homes still being rebuilt after damage by Superstorm Sandy, though he did so with a scathing statement that warns it could violate federal law.
Christie has vetoed earlier efforts at Sandy-related foreclosure protections but signed this version, which allows homeowners to apply to the Department of Community Affairs for a mortgage forbearance or to courts for a stay of foreclosure proceedings. But he called lawmakers selfish and accused them of political grandstanding.
“I am very concerned that these new requirements may adversely impact the state’s recovery efforts, jeopardize federal Sandy funding, increase borrowing costs, and ultimately delay Sandy-impacted residents’ return to their homes,” Christie said in a signing statement. “Some of this bill may violate federal law and negatively impact victims; most of it is a transparent, useless political exercise by candidates for re-election falsely pandering to victimized voters.”
Christie directed to DCA to establish priority in the mortgage forbearance for Sandy-affected homeowners whose homes aren’t yet fully reconstructed. He said the new law allows Sandy victims to claim mortgage relief even for default problems unrelated to storm damage.
“That is how sloppily written, ill-conceived and politically pandering this bill is from the Legislature. I have chosen to sign it to give Sandy victims the morsels of relief this vanity exercise of a bill offers,” Christie said. “I will use my executive authority to attempt to repair the mountains of damage this could cause to our federal funding flow and our state housing market.”
Under what was bill A-333, the Department of Community Affairs will have to extend the completion deadline for projects funded through the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation or Low to Moderate Income Homeowners Rebuilding grant for applicants who can demonstrate the delay was the fault of their builder or due to delays by the DCA in approving the builder doing the project.
Homeowners assisted through the RREM or LMI programs or who received rental assistance from FEMA as a result of damage to their primary residence could apply for mortgage forbearance. That period would end a year after a certificate of occupancy for recovery and rebuilding program work has been issued; July 1, 2019; or regarding a property in foreclosure proceedings, 10 days after a sheriff’s sale.
The law requires DCA to report where all funding associated with application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals has instead been allocated, going back to the start of the recovery effort, and it requires quarterly reports through 2018.
“The idea of Sandy victims facing foreclosure because of problems they did not create is asinine,” said Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, D-Gloucester.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said there are still 3,200 Sandy victims with incomplete home elevation and construction projects.
“We’ve spent two long years trying to get Sandy families protection from foreclosures and so today is a good day for us,” said Joe Mangino, a Sandy survivor and co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Even though the governor doesn’t seem happy about signing the bill, we are happy it got signed.”
Christie also signed 11 other bills into law, including one that establishes statewide regulations for ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft. (Click here for a list.)
He also vetoed two bills, including one that would have extended the Urban Enterprise Zones in Bridgeton, Camden, Newark, Plainfield and Trenton through the end of the 2018. Those zones — where features included cutting the sales tax in half — expired at the end of December.
Christie said the UEZs were supposed to be temporary when created in the mid-1980s and that extending those five would cost the state $40 million over two years. “Thirty years of experience demonstrates that the UEZ program does not work,” he said.
Read More: Christie rips Sandy foreclosure protection bill -- but signs it into law | http://nj1015.com/christie-rips-sandy-foreclosure-protection-bill-but-signs-it-into-law/?trackback=tsmclip
Christie, with regrets, signs Sandy foreclosure bill - Russ Zimmer, Asbury Park Press
Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Friday granting foreclosure protection to potentially thousands of victims of superstorm Sandy, but he did so with deep reservations.
After signing A-333, Christie released a two-page statement ripping the bill as "a transparent, useless political exercise by candidates for re-election falsely pandering to victimized voters."
"I have chosen to sign it to give Sandy victims the morsels of relief this vanity exercise of a bill offers," he wrote. "I will use my executive authority to attempt to repair the mountains of damage this could cause to our federal funding flow and our state housing market."
Christie didn't stop there.
"It is selfish of the Legislature to use its authority to play on the emotions of Sandy victims with the empty promises of this bill; as we have done for the last 4½ years, the executive branch will use our authority to provide real solutions based on facts, not emotion or political grandstanding."
Read the entire statement below.
The bill allows homeowners who are in the Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program and RREM's sister program for low- and moderate-income homeowners to petition the state Department of Community Affairs for a reprieve from foreclosure actions until as late as July 2019.
Post-Sandy, many homeowners have been thrust into bankruptcy or its brink, broken by unexpected rent payments and the mortgage on their storm-ravaged homes. Hundreds, if not thousands of Shore families, have been set back as well by insurance woes, slow-moving government programs, and shady contractors.
Christie had until Monday to make a decision on the bill, which the Legislature sent to his desk on Dec. 19.
The Governor's Office had declined to speak on what action Christie might take, but he had conditionally vetoed a previous version of the legislation, expressing concern about the role of the DCA in what has always been a judicial process.
Gov. Chris Christie in a flie photo (Photo: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)
The DCA remains central in the version he signed Friday, as does language that could potentially include 61,000 homeowners who received FEMA housing aid after the October 2012 storm. That's in addition to the 2,800 homeowners still in the construction phase of RREM.
The bank lobby, which opposed the bill, argued that adding in the FEMA population would include tens of thousands who were not as severely impacted by Sandy. Christie echoed those worries in his statement.
"As it stands now, Sandy victims who have mortgage default problems completely unrelated to storm damage can claim mortgage forbearance under this bill," he wrote. "That is how sloppily written, ill-conceived and politically pandering this bill is from the Legislature."
But Sandy advocacy groups have been celebrating the news.
"Action and pressure work! Thank you to all the calls, petition signers, and members who met with legislators," the New Jersey Organizing Project posted on their Facebook page Friday afternoon.
A333 Statement Upon Signing
Russ Zimmer: 732-557-5748, email@example.com
'Activism for All' Ramps Up in Ocean County - Victoria Ford, The Sandpaper
Like never before in U.S. history, people across the political spectrum – those who identify as Democrat, Republican, Independent, apolitical, progressive, conservative, feminist, or eschew labels altogether – are choosing this moment to get involved, be it for the first time ever, or for the first time in decades. Some say they are urged by a sense of civic duty or moral imperative to fight for their beliefs, to challenge the people in power and to make what they hope is a positive difference, whether in their community or in the big picture.
In the weeks since a Jan. 21 bus trip that ushered 100 local protestors (with widely varying political and personal motivations and principles) to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., here at home the movement – or “marathon,” as co-organizer Christine Rooney of Ship Bottom describes it – has continued on several fronts.
The New Jersey Organizing Project, headed up by Cedar Bonnet Island’s Amanda Devecka-Rinear and Manahawkin resident Joe Mangino, has added the causes of healthcare and climate change to their ongoing work in seeking justice for victims of Superstorm Sandy. NJOP held kickoff meetings Jan. 28, attended by about 100 people in different parts of Ocean County, sharing stories, ideas and readiness to dig in and work with neighbors for families and values, according to the organization. The main bases covered were “economic security and dignity” with regard to the potential loss of healthcare coverage for 800,000 New Jerseyans; Sandy recovery, in fighting the foreclosure crisis, contractor fraud, and the state RREM disaster relief program “clawbacks” of demanding return of certain promised grant amounts; a “shore keeper” strategy, with respect to future extreme weather and sea level rise; and next steps (meetings in Atlantic City and Monmouth bayshore areas are planned the last weekend in February).
On Jan. 26, Rooney and Devecka-Rinear (along with Tuckerton resident Bonnie Richmond and local businesswoman Becky Tarditi) held an “Activism: 101” workshop at the Barnegat branch of the Ocean County Library. Rooney described it as “a low-key, soft introduction” to activism, attended by about 20 people, where Devecka-Rinear gave a training and Rooney followed up with a PowerPoint presentation.
Rooney feels the focus should not be what she and others are against, but rather what they are for: health care, environmental protection, social security, anti-discrimination, funding for the arts and world peace.
People want to have a voice, and they’re looking for ways to be effective, according to Rooney. She administers a Facebook page called March on LBI/Ocean County Women as an online gathering place for information and resources. There, she and others post upcoming actions, rallies, vigils, advice on phone calls to make and letters to write to legislators, and links to such entities as MoveOn.org, Wall-of-Us.org and New Jersey Citizen Action so people can participate in whatever ways work best for them.
On Jan. 29, some area residents joined the protests at Philadelphia International Airport against the president’s ban on travel from certain Muslim countries. The following Tuesday, more than 100 demonstrators gathered at Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s office in Mays Landing (while he was away in Washington, D.C.) to express their dissatisfaction with the travel ban. Among them were Valerie Vaughn and some of her fellow Little Egg Harbor citizens. Vaughn described the experience as spiritually enlightening: An imam from a local mosque led a group in prayer, then Vaughn sang an a capella rendition of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and everyone sang along.
Two days later, on Feb. 2, a group of 15 from LBI and the mainland – nearly all first-time activists, according to Karlyn Ippolito of Surf City – went to LoBiondo’s office and met with District Director Linda Hinckley in the congressman’s absence.
“We spent about an hour discussing our concerns with the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” Ippolito said. “Many of the people around the table told of their personal concerns.” They all signed a letter and left it in Hinckley’s care, requesting an appointment with LoBiondo and emphasizing the need for “town hall”-style meetings where he can field questions. As it is, according to Ippolito, LoBiondo holds town halls via teleconference with tens of thousands of people on the line, which she feels is not the ideal format for getting questions answered and concerns addressed.
“We were told he will not be back in district until March – not one day – and it is too soon to begin setting up appointments for March.” Hinckley suggested they try scheduling a meeting with his appointment secretary in Washington, D.C.
“Our impression was that while Ms. Hinckley was unfailingly polite, there was no sign of anything changing,” Ippolito said.
Friday, Feb. 3, Tarditi visited the mosque of the Islamic Society of Monmouth County in Middletown with about 300 others in what was described in reports as a multi-faith display of solidarity for the local Muslim community. Tarditi considers herself an activist for human rights. When she participates, she said, it’s on many levels, spiritual, political, emotional and physical (as in actions/ demonstrations).
“Passersby were mostly supportive,” Tarditi said, noting only one or two exceptions. The congregation was very appreciative, offering repeated thanks and refreshments and inviting supporters inside the mosque for the service, which Tarditi described as “interesting and friendly.” The resounding message from the service was for human beings to treat each other with dignity and respect, she added.
At press time, candlelight vigils were being planned for Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. (and every Wednesday) outside the offices of Congressmen Frelinghuysen, Lance, LoBiondo, MacArthur and Smith, in light of plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The idea is to urge legislators to prevent funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and to ensure 30 million people can keep their healthcare coverage.
— Victoria Ford
Survey Looks For Sandy Problems And Solutions - Chris Lundy, Micromedia Publications
OCEAN COUNTY – As part of a recent survey, 71 percent of people affected by Superstorm Sandy stated that they are suffering from increased physical or mental health issues that are directly related to the storm.
This is a snapshot of an incomplete survey called the Sandy Truth Project. It is being used to understand more clearly the issues that are still affecting survivors more than four years later. And it needs your voice.
The survey is online at newjerseyop.org/sandy-truth-project.html.
The group behind it, the New Jersey Organizing Project, is an advocacy group that started two years after Sandy with the goal of making sure that people were getting the help they needed, said its director, Amanda Devecka-Rinear. Now, four years and four months after the storm, there are still people affected in unprecedented ways.
“Sandy recovery is failing,” she said. “Where are we in recovery? Are we prepared for future storms?”
They are looking for transparency in how aid for Sandy is allocated. How much of the money went to consulting firms rather than residents, for example.
Currently, they are pushing for the foreclosure bill (A333/S2300) that would provide a cushion for those who are facing foreclosure on their homes.
One of the more recent issues is clawbacks, said member Joe Mangino. Sometimes a homeowner has had to give money back. People have been receiving vague letters stating that they owe money to the government without any explanation, he said.
“The homeowner now has to do more legwork,” he said. There never seems to be an end to the issues.
There also is no hard deadline for the end of the survey period, he said. The group is using it as an opportunity to expand as an organization and find more ways to help residents.
The mission statement for NJOP is quite broad: “We work together to pass policies that make life better for everyday people, change institutions, hold corporations accountable and ensure elected officials stand with us, their constituents.” Their first initiative was the “Finish the Job” campaign in 2014, because too few people were back in their homes. A lot of money was still being withheld.
Previous campaigns have centered on getting more accessible guidelines for how to file for aid, contractor fraud, foreclosures, and getting people off waitlists for funding.
Formed in 2014 by nine Sandy survivors, the New Jersey Organizing Project is a non-profit, with no political affiliation. Other issues they are addressing are climate change and cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other health care programs. The group recently held two kick-off meetings for 2017 in Manahawkin and Brick.
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