Frustration With Recovery Process Is ‘Palpable’

State to Hold Workshops for RREM Recipients With Questions   

Mar 12, 2014

Sandy survivors who have already been approved for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant may go to their local Housing Recovery Center on Saturday, March 15 from noon to 5 p.m. to pursue answers to any questions they might have about the program.

Housing advisers will staff each of the nine Housing Recovery Centers located in the nine most Sandy-impacted counties. In Ocean County the housing center is in Lakewood.

“RREM grant awardees do not have to wait until the Saturday workshop session to get assistance,” said Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable III. “They can contact their program-assigned housing adviser during normal business hours to get a quick response to their questions and concerns. But for those RREM grant awardees who have unanswered questions, our staff will be there for you at each of the nine housing Recovery Centers during the workshop.”

The workshop is not for applicants on the RREM program waitlist or those deemed ineligible for the program, or those appealing their ineligibility determination. Applicants on the wait list can call the Housing Recovery Hotline at 1-855-SANDYHM to learn where they are on the waitlist.  

The Lakewood Housing Recovery Center is located at 750 Vassar Ave., Suite 1.

The DCA is the state department that is administering the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Fund. To date the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has disbursed $1.8 billion of the $60 billion approved federal funding for the Sandy disaster to New Jersey. Of that, $710 million was earmarked for RREM.

On Feb. 25, Constable addressed the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on the pace of the Sandy Recovery.

He said the administration recently held three public hearings on the state’s plan for spending the second disbursement of CDBG disaster recovery funds – an additional $1.4 billion announced in January, with $390 earmarked for RREM.           

“The frustration during the public hearings was palpable. Residents, especially applicants for the RREM program, are tired of waiting. I hear their frustration. And I understand it,” he said.

Constable said HUD has allocated much less for New Jersey than is needed. “Now, I know that various advocates have complained that not enough money has gone to certain causes, to homeowners or renters, to low-income or middle-class families, to local governments or statewide infrastructure projects. And you know what? They’re all correct. That’s because HUD has allocated for New Jersey significantly less than warranted. While we are grateful for the $1.8 billion in initial aid, the reality is there are more needs than resources to go around. Sandy caused nearly $37 billion in damage to New Jersey and $42 billion of combined damage in New York state and New York City. But by comparison, New York state and City has been awarded a total of $7.1 billion in CDBG disaster recovery funding, while New Jersey has only been awarded $3.2 billion. That $4 billion difference would have gone a long way here in New Jersey.”

Constable also criticized Congress for delaying the vote on the recovery package for two months after Sandy and leading to delays all around. The first round of Sandy recovery funds came to the state in May. Nine months after HUD released the initial funds to New Jersey, the state has obligated more than $1 billion for housing with 70 percent or more of housing funds to low- and moderate-income households.

Those applying for the grant have criticized some of the requirements for the RREM. Constable said the requirements are made by HUD. Homeowners are required to produce income verification, provide information on other building funds they have received so as to not violate federal duplication of benefits law, obtain a substantial damage letter, submit receipts for any rebuilding work performed after the storm as HUD only reimburses work it considers “reasonable and necessary” and wait for federally-mandated environmental and historic inspections.

Even with these steps, Constable said more than 5,100 families received preliminary awards. “We have completed RREM grant award signings with more than 1,500 homeowners, committing approximately $160 million in grant assistance, including having paid nearly $30 million in reimbursement.”

Constable said one of the steps the DCA took to speed up the process in rebuilding was to allow recipients to hire their own contractors. “Recognizing that many RREM grantees are choosing their own contractors, the RREM program is transitioning from three to two project management firms and will ultimately go down to one.”

The requirement that the state use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s estimates to meet the federal guidelines  – that at least $8,000 in damages was done and one foot of water was in the first floor – has also been reviewed. According to Constable, the state asked HUD and was allowed to amend the rule to allow insurance estimators or Small Business Administration inspections or flood plain manager’s statements to be used, making thousands more families eligible.

“As for the 7,000 households currently on the RREM waitlist, DCA recently sent a second round of letters to let them know that due to limited federal funding, the state cannot guarantee that all eligible homeowners will be funded. We also informed them that all applicants who want to know where they stand on the waitlist can simply call 1-855-SANDYHM, and we would let them know.” Citizens who want to know how the first allocation round was spent should visit newjerseyrebuild.org

According to the DCA, 17,966 residents in Ocean County were awarded the $10,000 resettlement grant totaling $91.2 million and 5,119 residents were preliminarily awarded RREM funds totaling $270.2 million. An additional 5,470 renters are being helped with rental assistance. Statewide, $215 million was spent for resettlement grants and $710 million earmarked for RREM.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net
           
            

 

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