Murphy Says Sandy Relief on Way for Homeowners Still Not Home

Governor’s Aid Proposal on Superstorm’s Sixth Anniversary
Oct 31, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

On the sixth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Y. Oliver, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, announced significant changes to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program.

The changes to the two main housing recovery programs for homeowners impacted by Superstorm Sandy will channel more money to program participants who have not yet finished construction on storm-damaged property. Participants who owe refunds to the program will also have opportunity to demonstrate that repayment of the amount owed would create extreme financial hardship.

“With these programs, our objective is to find a path forward for the homeowners who have not finished rebuilding and who find themselves stuck because they don’t have the financial means to move ahead,” said Murphy. “We want to work with people who are struggling financially to determine what they can realistically contribute, and we want to get them across the finish line so they can return home and get some much-overdue normalcy in their lives.”

For the approximately 1,200 homeowners in the RREM and LMI programs who have not completed construction, the DCA is proposing a zero-interest, forgivable loan to fully fund unmet needs above and beyond the maximum $150,000 grant.

“By supplementing the $150,000 grant with a new loan component to the programs, we are eliminating any financial barrier to completing construction in a way that is fair and equitable,” said Oliver. “Today’s announcement shows DCA is working creatively and purposefully to help remaining homeowners complete their projects once and for all.”

Joe Mangino of Stafford Township was a co-founder in 2014 of the New Jersey Organizing Project, which has lobbied in the past for this type of relief, but it was only the last year, after Murphy was elected, that progress was made on the issues. “We’ve been pushing for that for the last year, and we’re so glad there is finally some help for the families that are still not in their homes,”  said Mangino on Tuesday. “Six years is a long time waiting for this.”

Mangino, a candidate for Stafford mayor in next week’s election, said he was sorry he was unable to attend the announcement by the governor on the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. “Over the past year we have met with the governor and Sheila Oliver of the DCA, we’ve collected petitions, and did letter writing campaigns. This will help local residents tremendously.”

The proposed loan would be uncapped, would require no monthly payments, and would be calculated based on the remaining work needed to finish the project, taking into account other funding sources available to homeowners, such as flood insurance and Small Business Administration loans. The loan could be used only for eligible costs under the RREM or LMI program. Homeowners who accept a loan would be required to live in the home for 15 years following construction completion. If the homeowner were to sell the home prior to meeting the residency requirement, a portion of the loan would be due upon sale.

DCA must receive approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement the loan. In the next several weeks, DCA will release a Substantial Amendment to New Jersey’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Action Plan that proposes to create a new loan component to RREM and the LMI Program and to reallocate $50 million in CDBG-DR funds to the two programs. The amendment process will include a public hearing and a public comment period.

Additionally, in instances where homeowners with completed projects are required to repay excess grant funds, they will now be eligible to apply to DCA for an extreme financial hardship allowance. If the hardship is granted, DCA would use a uniform test to evaluate the homeowner’s ability to pay and may provide forgiveness of some or all of the debt that remains to be paid. This includes homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure, the heirs of program participants who have died, and homeowners who have declared bankruptcy.

The RREM program is the state’s largest Sandy housing recovery program. RREM provides grants to Sandy-impacted homeowners to cover rebuilding costs up to $150,000 that are not otherwise funded by insurance, FEMA assistance, SBA loans or other sources. Similarly, the LMI Homeowner Rebuilding Program provides up to $150,000 in reconstruction, rehabilitation and elevation assistance to Sandy-impacted homeowners of limited financial means who did not apply to the RREM program. Together, the RREM and LMI programs have already rebuilt approximately 6,420 Sandy-damaged homes.

For more information about DCA’s Sandy recovery programs, go to renewjerseystronger.org/. —P.J.

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