TRENTON, NJ – The Christie Administration has completed its first Blue Acres Program buyout of a home in Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County, continuing its goal of making flood-prone communities across New Jersey more resilient to devastating storms, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
The willing-seller program has also reached the milestone of extending offers to 700 homeowners, with 534 accepting the state’s offer. Closings have been completed on 412 properties, 293 of which have now been demolished.
“More than three years after Superstorm Sandy, this administration remains committed to reducing the impact of devastating storms on people and moving them out of harm’s way,” Commissioner Martin said. “With more than 400 buyouts now completed through the Blue Acres Program, we will continue giving residents in flood-prone communities the opportunity to move to higher ground and enjoy their lives without fear of additional damages or disruption.”
The first Old Bridge home to be purchased by the Blue Acres program, a one-story bungalow-style home at 9 Clifford Way, belonged to Kathy and Drew Litchkowski. Superstorm Sandy inundated their home on Oct. 29, 2012, requiring the family to escape their property by canoe. Since then, the couple has been living with family in nearby Aberdeen.
“I truly am very thankful for the Blue Acres Program because without them, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Kathy Litchkowski, a customer service supervisor.
The Old Bridge closing is the latest to use funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which also recently paid for the first buyouts in the city of Linden, in Union County.
Old Bridge and Linden are the first New Jersey communities where Blue Acres home purchases are being funded through a second round of Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding provided to the state by HUD.
Most of the previous buyouts were funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which approved more than $163 million for the Blue Acres Buyout Program, and which has been processed through the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management.
The Blue Acres program was recently recognized by FEMA for Best Mitigation Practices for its Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA) approach, which included moving the Blue Acres BCA team to a Joint Field Office to work side-by-side with FEMA engineers to streamline the process for subsequent applicants. Additionally, FEMA cited Blue Acres’ “Dashboard Survey” method created by each agency’s Historic Preservation Offices to significantly reduce the number of properties requiring extensive and time-consuming reviews.
HUD also recognized the Blue Acres Buyout Program with its “Exemplary Practice” rating for creating a team to negotiate mortgage forgiveness on behalf of homeowners owing more for their homes than their properties are worth.
In 2013, Governor Christie designated Blue Acres to run the state’s post-Sandy effort to purchase homes from willing sellers, at pre-Sandy values. After a Blue Acres purchase the homes are demolished and the land is permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes.
While Blue Acres initially focused on acquiring residential properties in communities hit hard by Sandy, to date statewide, buyouts are underway in 12 municipalities in six counties: Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge, Old Bridge and East Brunswick (Middlesex County) ; Manville (Somerset), Pompton Lakes (Passaic), Newark (Essex), Rahway, Linden (Union), Lawrence and Downe (Cumberland County).
The Blue Acres Buyout Program has created a special implementation team that expedites the buyout process. Individual case managers work closely with homeowners to personally guide them throughout the entire buyout process.
Homeowners interested in selling their homes or who have questions about the buyout program may call the DEP’s Blue Acres Buyout Program at (609) 984-0500.
For more information on the Blue Acres Buyout Program, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/blue_flood_ac.html