3/4/2016 Christie Says Contractor Availability Delaying Sandy Rebuilding, Phil Gregory, WBGO News
More than three years after Superstorm Sandy, only about a third of the New Jersey residents in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program have managed to rebuild their homes.
Governor Christie says everyone in the RREM program has signed grant agreements, and funds to rebuild are available as soon as they get a qualified contractor.
"So the problem now is we just don't have enough construction companies competent and qualified within the state to be able to do all the work that needs to be done."
Amanda Devecka-Rinear is the director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. She says many homeowners haven't rebuilt because of delays in the REMM grant process.
"What Christie is doing is totally shifting the blame from his state's inability to run a successful construction program to the guys on the ground that are trying to rebuild. It's true that it's difficult. That is not the problem."
Beach Haven West resident Joe Mangino believes the administration of the RREM program has held up the rebuilding process.
“There are a lot of competent contractors out there that couldn’t become RREM qualified because the paperwork to get in was massive and they didn’t want to deal with it. That’s why you got stuck with some lower level contractors who had nothing better to do.”
Mangino says he had a contractor vetted by the state, and the project to elevate his Sandy-damaged home still isn’t complete a-year-and-a-half after the work began.
Christie claims the state has done an extraordinary job and the rebuilding has gone much quicker than in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
3/1/2016 Three Years Later, Sandy's Victims Rebuilding, Geroge Spencer, NBC10 Philadelphia
More than three years after Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, thousands of homeowners are still feeling its effects. According to data obtained and analyzed by the NBC10 Investigators, just more than one out of every three homes has been fully rebuilt in the state’s largest recovery initiative.
NBC10 Investigative Reporter George Spencer spoke with three residents who -- a full 40 months after Sandy -- are still waiting for their homes to be completed.
Penny Ryan of Little Egg Harbor Township showed Spencer her front door, which sits well above her head but has no stairs. The backyard where her six children played remains a mud pit.
“We continue to come back every single day – and it’s a reminder, every day, that this occurred. And we’re still living in it. We’re still living this devastation,” Ryan said.
On Pelican Island, adjacent to Seaside Heights, Sue Kosakowski’s retirement dream is also still not rebuilt.
Neither is Lori Tyska’s home across the street.
“I just feel almost hopeless. Almost hopeless,” Tyska told Spencer.
Each of the three women is frustrated by the pace of the recovery, and by public claims seeming to indicate the recovery is complete. At his last presidential debate, Governor Chris Christie exclaimed that the state had recovered.
“And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done,” Christie said.
The NBC10 Investigators dug into the data for New Jersey’s largest recovery initiative: The Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program. The program either reimburses homeowners for repairs or pays contractors directly for the work.
We found 7,774 RREM grant agreements have been signed since the October 2012 storm. Yet, only 2,774 RREM homes have actually been re-built, which is about one out of every three approved projects.
The NBC10 Investigators also confirmed that more than 600 of those projects were just finished in the last quarter of 2015.
Ryan says her case was slowed because RREM was unprepared for the contractor fraud she suffered.
The first crews at Tyska’s house didn’t correctly repair her foundation. Tyska says RREM wasn’t able to quickly find a new contractor to do the follow-up work, which left her home with township code violations in the meantime.
Kosakowski blames her delays on inconsistency in re-building standards between RREM, her insurance, and the township.
The RREM program is intended to help residents re-build, even despite such complications. Yet these homeowners say, inefficient and inadequate communication from RREM has often slowed repairs down further, and has occasionally added new hurdles.
“They are not equipped to handle the scope of what Sandy brought to New Jersey,” Sue Kosakowski.
After RREM representatives declined our on-camera interview request, we caught up with Governor Christie on the campaign trail in New Hampshire in February.
Christie told Spencer: “I’m never satisfied until everybody gets back in their home. But going from 365,000 homes destroyed to four or five thousand… “
Spencer then asked about the RREM program, but Christie walked onto his campaign bus instead of answering. The governor’s office never responded to our requests for a more complete interview.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs points to other numbers, saying nearly all RREM grant agreements have been signed, and about 6,700 of RREM’s 7,700 participants have received a notice to proceed with construction.
However, those numbers don’t reflect whether or not construction has begun.
For the many in the still-unfinished group, frustration continues to grow.
“It’s hard to explain what it does to you, but it actually gets to the fiber of your soul,” Kosakowski said.
Kosakowski, Ryan, and Tyska are part of a group called the New Jersey Organizing Project. State officials say they’ve 'personally met and frequently communicate' with the group to address concerns.
By May 1, 2016, New Jersey’s Housing Recovery Centers will be closed and consolidated into just two offices.
Officials say that will allow them to focus more of their resources on rebuilding and project completion, which they say are now the “predominant needs” of RREM homeowners.
Read more: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Sandy-Victims-Rebuild-Christie-Homes-Egg-Harbor-Township-370711361.html#ixzz45e67VOzS
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3/3/14 N.J. extends rental assistance for Sandy victims, Jean Mikle, Asbury Park
TRENTON -- Sandy victims whose rental assistance was about to run out can now breathe a sigh of relief: the state has agreed to extend the program for an additional year.
The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency board agreed to extend temporary rental help for an additional year for residents who have been forced to pay rent while they are rebuilding their homes. That means eligible homeowners can receive up to 21 months of rental assistance.
Rental assistance is available to homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) and Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) Homeowners Rebuilding programs. Homeowners can receive up to $1,300 a month for rent payments.
“The state is taking positive steps to meet the ongoing need of homeowners in the RREM Program and LMI Program for temporary rental assistance as they complete the construction and, in many cases, elevation of their Sandy-damaged homes,” said Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles A. Richman, who chairs the HMFA Board.
The HMFA, which is an affiliated agency of DCA, administers the Rental Assistance Program.
The decision to extend the program came on the same day that 42 nonprofit groups and legislators wrote a letter to Richman, saying that without rental assistance many families would not have enough money to get back home. More than three years after Sandy struck, 69 percent of families in the RREM program are still not back in their houses, the letter said.
"Our fear is that without continued rental assistance many families will lack the necessary funds to both keep a borrowed roof over their heads and finish building their permanent home," the letter reads.
About 8,300 homeowners are participating in the RREM program. Many have been forced to pay both a mortgage and rent while their home is being repaired or elevated.
"This is happy news for those people who were fearful that they were going to lose that assistance," said Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, who spoke about the need for more rental assistance at Thursday's group meeting. "Without that, I can't imagine what would be happening to these homeowners."
HMFA will contact all eligible rental assistance applicants that have already exhausted or will be exhausting all nine months of assistance to inform them of the available extension and review process.
HMFA will begin making extension payments in April and said payments will start no later than May 1. These payments will be for current and future rent only.
The rental assistance program is currently funded with $19.5 million in federal funds, and about $8.5 million has been disbursed, according to DCA. The state will propose to transfer an additional $12.5 million of Community Development Block Grant funds to the program to pay for extended rental assistance.
More information about the Rental Assistance Program is available athttp://www.state.nj.us/dca/hmfa/homeownership/owners/ssbg/index.shtml.
Jean Mikle: (732) 643-4050, firstname.lastname@example.org
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