TRENTON - Four years after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey, Fair Share Housing Center Associate Director Adam Gordon told an Assembly oversight panel Thursday, alongside families still waiting to move back home and other advocates for a fair rebuilding process, that the state must finish the job of rebuilding the state and must make families impacted by the storm whole.
Even though the federal government has allocated billions of dollars to the state to help families rebuild their homes or find permanent housing after Sandy, thousands of New Jersey residents are still waiting for help.
Of the nearly 7,700 families currently participating in the state's signature recovery program, the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program, less than half have received a certificate of occupancy enabling them to move back into their storm-damaged home - and fewer than 700 have completed their participation in the program.
In addition, more than 4,500 families dropped out of the program or were administratively removed because it was too cumbersome or because they lost their homes to foreclosure during the long recovery process.
A total of 12,500 families have participated or are still participating in the RREM program.
"We need to be focused today on finding ways to make sure any remaining resources help these families who were eligible for aid - especially those who have fallen through the cracks in a very complicated, bureaucratic process," Gordon said. "We need to make sure that we do all we can to ensure that people waiting to rebuild don't lose their homes to foreclosure."
Gordon called on the Senate to pass Sandy foreclosure legislation that the Assembly has advanced on a bipartisan basis to speed recovery efforts. He added that families who do lose their homes to foreclosure should receive assistance in finding a new home to purchase or rent.
Gordon also called on the state to address the issue of RREM clawbacks, in which the state is pressing families to repay a portion of the federal assistance they received. These amounts are larger than many families can afford.
Fair Share Housing Center emerged as an advocate for Sandy-impacted families as part of its mission to secure fair housing opportunities for New Jersey working families, seniors and those with disabilities. Together with the New Jersey NAACP, the Latino Action Network and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fair Share negotiated a landmark settlement with the Christie administration to resolve a civil rights complaint related to inequitable ways the governor was proposing to distribute federal disaster recovery funds.
This settlement, which served as a template for new disaster recovery guidelines issued by the Obama Administration over the summer, ensured that aid would be directed to communities that suffered the most severe impacts and that funds would be used to help low- and moderate-income families recover.
The settlement also required the Christie administration to provide aid to thousands of families whose applications for assistance were initially wrongly denied.
Gordon at the hearing also thanked lawmakers from both parties who worked to pass Sandy transparency legislation last year, saying it has provided advocates with important information and enables the public to evaluate the success of the state's rebuilding efforts.
"The Legislature's efforts to date have had a meaningful impact," Gordon said. "Much of what we know wouldn't have been known without the Sandy transparency bill. Armed with this information, the Legislature should take additional action to assist storm-impacted families across New Jersey by addressing the ongoing foreclosure and clawback issues and finishing the job on Sandy recovery."