In the months since Hurricane Sandy made a destructive path through the New Jersey Shore and into New York State, the focal point has been rebuilding the areas which were the most impacted by this terrible event. The major issue centered on rebuilding is simple: funding.
In some areas of the New Jersey Shore the rebuilding process has moved faster than other areas and most of the time the rationale for that is simple, it all comes back to the level of funding given to a town or to the individual homeowners in a given town or area.
Some towns such as Union Beach, Keansburg, and Sea Bright have large areas of their respective towns still in very bad conditions. I have also written recently about the struggle of towns along the barrier island areas and the towns along the Raritan Bay with tax revenue shortfalls due to displaced residents and decimated business districts.
In order to address both issues a new housing initiative was announced called “Renew Jersey Stronger” which is being funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov).
Path to Recovery
I learned of an information session on this new program being held on June 19th in Keansburg at the Borough Hall. I decided to attend the meeting to learn more about this program and to talk to the residents about their rebuilding efforts.
I spoke to a representative from the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and I learned that the “Renew Jersey Stronger” initiative has two programs:
- · The Homeowner Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation Program (RREM)
- · The Homeowner Resettlement Program
The first important aspect to note is that a homeowner in a Sandy effected area can apply to both programs.
Program Eligibility Criterion
The representative I spoke with from HUD explained the following criterion for eligibility for either of these grants programs:
- · The home must have had at least 1 foot of standing water inside the structure during the storm or from flooding just after the surge
- · Your home must have a minimum of $8,000.00 in damages from the storm and the damages need to be certified by FEMA or the State Government upon an inspection of your home
- · The home must be your primary residence. If you are displaced and living out of the area or out of state and you apply and are provided funds then you must move back to that address.
- · You will be required to sign a promissory note stating that you will move back to the residence and remain in that county (in this case Monmouth County) for a period of 3 years. If you move during that time you will be required to pay back the money you were provided from the grant.
The top award from the Homeowner Resettlement program is $10,000.00 and the other program, (RREM) has various tiers. Please visit their website at www.renewjerseystronger.org for more details on these programs.
The People’s Perspective
The experience of being displaced by Hurricane Sandy has been a very traumatic one for me and for most people I know who were affected by this horrible event. I wanted to gauge the feelings about this new program from the people gathered there from throughout the Monmouth County coastal communities.
The general consensus I gathered was of frustration about the slow pace of the recovery, a distrust of government, and the feeling that this grant money will not be enough for them to rebuild and raise their home to the appropriate floodplain regulations.
The floodplain maps were revised by the government and the new map was unveiled recently. One man I spoke with, a Keansburg resident who did not want to be identified, was upset that the new floodplain maps were not present at this information session with HUD. He also expressed a great deal of frustration with the local government regarding the slow pace of the work he is trying to get done in his home.
This sentiment was echoed by other residents at this information meeting, and I could sense their growing discontent with this terrible situation. The other sticking point for some residents was the signing of the promissory note which would essentially lock them in to living in Monmouth County for the next three years. One woman said to me, “What if I want to sell my house and move next year? That means I have to pay the money back?”
In the end, I see both sides of this situation; the government is trying to help people with funding to move forward with their lives. The local government and state government need people to return to Monmouth County, so the three year provision with the permanent residency clause for the funding helps them address the ratable property tax issue.
Conversely, the people feel that this program has too many catches and very strict criteria for eligibility. What if you had a roof leak and no standing water from a flood? You would not be eligible according to the HUD representative I spoke with yesterday. All of the previously mentioned rules for qualification have to be kept in mind if you consider applying for this program.
We all knew that rebuilding was not going to be easy, I hope that this program helps some people move forward from the horrible destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Only time will tell.