Superstorm Sandy Families Applaud New Opportunities for Recovery - by Victoria Ford, Sandpaper - April 10th 2019
With Monday’s announcement of up to $100 million in disaster aid to be redirected to help 957 families still stuck in the construction phase of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program came a flood of relief for those who continue to struggle 6½ years after Superstorm Sandy turned their lives upside down. RREM is the state’s largest disaster rebuilding program, but it has not done enough for everyone impacted by the superstorm.
The application process for the newly available funding will begin in June. Homeowners who accept the aid agree to live in the rebuilt homes for at least five years.
Still-displaced Sandy survivor Nancy Caira of Waretown called the funding a “lifeline” at a time when she and her husband, Tony, had almost begun to give up. The New Jersey Organizing Project member joined Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Frank Pallone, Sen. Vin Gopal and local officials in Neptune to announce important new opportunities.
During Monday’s news conference, Murphy expressed his hope that the added financial support will “make New Jersey whole again, after the worst natural disaster in our state’s history.”
In addition to the supplemental funding New Jersey will roll out, the state has extended rental assistance of $1,300 a month for still-displaced families for up to 40 months (previously a maximum of 21 months) and placed a freeze on “clawbacks,” whereby the state is recalling grant funds.
“We are thankful for recognition from the governor, senator and congressman for grassroots Sandy families and organizations like ours who have been pushing for these important changes, and we look forward to keeping up the fight to get families home,” said NJOP Board President Joe Mangino of Manahawkin.
Still, some remain cautiously optimistic. “We have learned when our disaster recovery programs fail, families get sicker and broker,” said NJOP’s Doug Quinn of Toms River. “We hope these new changes encourage families to keep up the fight. If the process seems off, we’d encourage families to reach out to us.”
The supplemental fund is a newly created $50 million pool available to homeowners who have yet to finish, or even start, construction because they lack sufficient resources. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave New Jersey $4.2 billion for Sandy recovery in 2013; about $1.2 billion of it has yet to be spent.
NJOP will host community meetings to make sure homeowners are confident in moving forward in their recovery and in the application process, and will continue to take action to reduce and forgive clawbacks. Those meetings are on Saturday, April 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ventnor Public Library; Saturday, May 4, 2 to 4 p.m. at Seeds of Service in Brick; and Sunday, May 19, 1 to 3 p.m. at the Elks Club in Belford.
NJOP was formed in 2014 by nine Superstorm Sandy victims and has since grown to over 4,300 members.
The organizing project has fought for and won rental assistance for Sandy families, transparency in Sandy spending, and foreclosure protections. Led by communities on the front lines of climate change and disaster, NJOP builds power to address the threats, health challenges and economic inequality New Jerseyans face and works for affordable healthcare – e.g., expanding access to treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction – and for reform in disaster recovery systems, to benefit families and to make communities better prepared for flooding and future storms.
FOR SANDY FAMILIES STILL REBUILDING, NEW FUNDS COMING THIS SUMMER by Michael Symons, NJ 101.5 - April 8th 2019
Nearly 1,000 families still not back in homes damaged six and a half years ago by Superstorm Sandy will be able to apply to the state for supplemental recovery funds beginning in early summer.
Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez were among the state and federal officials on hand Monday at the Shark River Municipal Marina in Neptune to announce changes to the state’s Sandy recovery programs designed to help homeowners finally make it over the finish line.
The changes were approved Feb. 22 by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the program, and announced by the state Monday.
“For many New Jerseyans, Sandy is just a memory,” Murphy said. "But for roughly a thousand families still rebuilding through the state’s programs, Superstorm Sandy never left.”
“With this significant amount of new funding and rental assistance, we now have hope that all Sandy families will have the financial support they need to finish their rebuilding projects, to return home and to truly make New Jersey whole again after the worst natural disaster in our state’s history,” he said.
The $150,000 limit on grants through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program is being lifted through a new ‘supplemental fund’ providing additional construction funds. So long as a homeowner stays in their home for five years, the additional zero-interest loan won’t have to be repaid.Two big changes were announced.
“The supplemental fund is going to make it possible to return the safety, the security, the comfort and the predictability that we all know as home,” said Kevin McGee, executive director of the St. Bernard’s Project in New Jersey.
Additionally, families who are receiving up to $1,300 a month in rental assistance are now eligible to receive benefits for an additional 19 months – 40 months in total, rather than 21. Murphy said some “could have faced financial ruin” by paying both a mortgage and rent if the program expired in June.
“They all share the same dream of returning home and getting on with their lives,” Menendez said. “Their marathon is not yet over, but today I see the finish line on the horizon.”
N.J. expands recovery programs for displaced Sandy victims - by Justin Auciello, WHYY - April 8th, 2019
Millions of funds will be available for New Jersey Superstorm Sandy victims that remain out of their homes, state and federal officials announced Monday.
Speaking at the Shark River Municipal Marina in Neptune Township, Gov. Phil Murphy announced an update to a three-prong plan to assist residents who remain displaced nearly six-and-a-half years after Sandy devastated the state.
The plan calls for the removing the $150,000 cap on Sandy-related grant funding; expanding rental assistance to a total of 40 months for residents in the state rebuilding programs (capped at $1,300 a month); and reallocating $55 million of federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds to homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation and the Low-to-Moderate Income Homeowner Rebuilding programs.
“Since we announced these programs six months ago, we have made tremendous progress for those who have spent years waiting to return home,” Murphy said.
The governor said the marina, which was destroyed by the storm, “was rebuilt stronger and more resilient” adding that it “exemplifies what we want for every community, and every individual and every structure that was hit by Sandy.”
More than 1,000 New Jersey homeowners remain displaced.
Nancy Caira of the New Jersey Organizing Project, formed after Superstorm Sandy to fight for an equitable recovery, praised the new programs.
“There’s hope now, there’s finally hope,” she said. “Today is pretty remarkable — remarkable for me, my husband, and over 1,000 other New Jerseyans just like us who are still not home.”
Governor Murphy Takes Major Step Forward to Provide More Funding to Sandy-Impacted Homeowners - InsiderNJ - April 8th 2019
NEPTUNE – Governor Phil Murphy, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Senator Bob Menendez, Congressman Frank Pallone, and state Senator Vin Gopal today visited Neptune’s Shark River Municipal Marina to discuss the State’s plan to remove the cap on access to Sandy-related funds, allowing homeowners who have long been in limbo to complete construction on their primary homes. Additionally, those still impacted by Sandy will be able to get additional months of rental assistance. These efforts to support homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program to the finish line were recently approved by the federal government.
“My Administration’s goal is to get more funding into the hands of Sandy-impacted families who have run out of money and legitimately need additional resources to finish construction. Since we announced these programs six months ago, we have made tremendous progress for those who have spent years waiting to return home,” said Governor Murphy. “Federal approval of our plan puts us one significant step closer to making this a reality. For the families who have yet to complete their rebuilding efforts, we recognize the difficulties you’ve endured. But we hope the actions we’ve taken over the last year eliminate the challenges that remain and demonstrate our commitment to helping all who were so devastated by Superstorm Sandy.”
“The 1,200 or so New Jerseyans who remain in the state rebuilding program have been through hell and back again. Some were defrauded by their building contractor; some had to spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting flood insurance companies in court; and some remain paralyzed by the fear of dreaded claw-back letters,” said Senator Menendez. “These Sandy survivors have faced many different obstacles. But at the end of the day they all share the same dream of returning home and getting on with their lives. Their marathon is not yet over but today the finish line is on the horizon, and the day they can return home is within reach.”
“It has been nearly six and a half years since Sandy devastated our shore communities,” said Rep. Pallone. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that New Jerseyans continue to recover to this day. This assistance, which will come from the Sandy relief package that I fought for in Congress, will significantly help to remove financial barriers for New Jersey residents who are still working to return to their homes. I applaud Governor Murphy and my colleagues in Congress for their steadfast support in this ongoing recovery.”
“My Department’s Sandy Recovery Division has ramped up efforts to help homeowners finish rebuilding once and for all,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA). “Throughout the month of March, we held well-attended outreach sessions about the additional funding in communities that were hit hard by Sandy. No longer will people in the RREM Program and LMI Program be limited to a $150,000 grant.”
“Thousands of New Jerseyans had the course of their life altered forever, and so many still deal with the impacts today,” said State Senator Vin Gopal. “While we continue to fight for support at the state level, ensuring we hold Sandy-repair contractors accountable, I am elated to join Gov. Murphy and our federal representatives today to announce $50 million that will go toward one of the most important Sandy recovery goals we can achieve: keeping New Jerseyans in their homes.”
Previously, homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program were limited to a maximum grant award of $150,000 to rebuild their primary residence. Because the grant award is not sufficient for some homeowners to complete their project, DCA requested and received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reallocate $50 million of federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to the RREM Program and the LMI Program to provide additional construction funding that should remove any financial roadblocks to a full recovery for these families.
Also, homeowners in the RREM Program and LMI Program who are in construction can receive up to $1,300 per month through the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) while their homes are being rebuilt. The Murphy Administration successfully petitioned the federal government to allow homeowners to now receive up to a total of 40 months of rental assistance funded with CDBG-DR dollars. Rental assistance was previously limited by federal regulations to 21 months.
“Homeowners continue to work towards completing construction, but the financial strain of an additional rental payment can be the difference between finishing or abandoning the project,” said Charles Richman, Executive Director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), which administers the Rental Assistance Program. “We at the NJHMFA are proud to help those families who were severely impacted by Sandy make ends meet so they can return home.”
DCA allocated $50 million to create a Supplemental Fund exclusively for homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program who have a program-calculated unmet need and who have yet to complete construction. Awards from the Supplemental Fund will be uncapped, will be calculated based on the remaining program-eligible work needed to finish the project, and will take into account other funding sources. Homeowners who accept a Supplemental Fund award will be required to live in the home for five years following construction completion.
DCA plans to make applications for the Supplemental Fund available in early summer.
“More than six years later, struggling Sandy families need a lifeline to get across the finish line and finally make it back home. The New Jersey Organizing Project welcomes this lifeline,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Executive Director of the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP). “Both the extension of rental assistance and the creation of a supplemental fund create hope and options where previously there were none. We look forward to continuing to work together to make sure families don’t have to struggle alone.”
DCA’s Sandy Recovery Division hosted evening and weekend outreach sessions about the Supplemental Fund throughout the month of March to packed rooms in communities such as Atlantic City, Brick, Little Ferry, Toms River, and Union Beach. Information about the outreach sessions and the Supplemental Fund was provided via direct phone calls and emails to every homeowner in the RREM Program and the LMI Program who is still rebuilding and who may be eligible for supplemental funding.
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