With more than 7,000 homeowners still not back in their homes for good since superstorm Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie’s choice of campaign songs, Bon Jovi’s “Who says you can’t go home?” is cringe-worthy. Thanks to RREM, the state’s recovery program, and the state’s poorly selected contractors, my family has been kept from our home by the very program meant to help us rebuild. His slogan is “Tell it like it is.” So I will. It’s no surprise the song is cringe-worthy; so is his record in New Jersey.
I saw Christie, face to face, at the Agricultural Summit in Iowa in March. By then, my family was running out of options. We had been out of our house since Thanksgiving Day of 2014, at the builder’s request, and nothing had been done to lift our house so that we could get back in. We went 110 days with no communication from the RREM program, other than me calling every week to see what the delay was.
I decided to go to Iowa to ask the governor directly since he refused to meet us in New Jersey due to his “busy schedule.” I went to draw attention to the struggles of my family, and the 10,000 other families at that time in similar situations. These numbers are just the families we know of in the RREM program. Many didn’t make it in RREM or have dropped out, and those who rented but didn’t own have been bouncing around instead of being able to stay in their communities.
Our community came together to help me get there by donating more than $1,500 in three days to cover my trip. Many people who donated were financially strapped Sandy victims. My trip to Iowa garnered immediate results for me. My picture in the newspapers and my story being broadcast on the news got my builder’s attention. Work began the following week but then ceased again a few weeks later. I’m still not home, 219 days after my wife, two daughters and I moved out of our house. And while I believe an effort is being made on my behalf, it’s not enough for my family or thousands of others.
Though it got much less attention than the governor’s presidential announcement, a bill to provide efficiency and transparency in Sandy spending cleared the Statehouse with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. That bill will help our families. More legislation is in the works that would help families who were hit by Sandy avoid foreclosure, or increase accountability for the contractors who have been taking advantage of us.
The governor, who once claimed that he won’t rest until every Sandy victim is home, has moved on and left us with this mess. The bill that passed last week, S2825, will move on to the governor. Let’s hope he does the right thing and signs it and the rest of the legislation that comes his way to help our families get home.
We can’t let him continue to get in the way of our recovery by vetoing these Sandy-related bills. The people who are still here and focused on fixing the problem — our communities, our state legislators across both parties — haven’t.
But if Christie doesn’t, it is critical for both sides of the aisle to work together and finish the job here in New Jersey. We can’t let the governor’s veto mean we can’t go home.
Joe Mangino, of Beach Haven West, is a co-founder of S.T.A.R.T., a volunteer effort in Stafford that gutted, demolished or repaired more than 800 homes after Sandy. He also is a co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a community action group standing up for South Jersey and the Shore.
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