Sandy recovery centers open to administer grants
Shore residents whose houses were damaged during Hurricane Sandy now can apply for grants in person.
The Department of Community Affairs opened nine recovery centers Saturday throughout the state to act ultimately as hubs for multiple types of state-run recovery programs.
The centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.
While residents can apply online or by phone for two types of grants that are part of the $60 billion federal aid package Congress approved in January, the agency set up the centers to help residents who have questions or want to conduct the process in person, DCA Commissioner Richard Constable said. Applicants do not need to visit the centers to apply.
Ultimately, residents will be able to go to these centers for various other programs that either have been announced or will be in the coming future, Constable said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City last month.
Among the grants that residents may apply for right now is up to $150,000 to rebuild or elevate storm-damaged houses. The grant is designed to fill in financial gaps between insurance and other aid.
The majority of the money is marked for low- to moderate-income households. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, the threshold for a four-person household is $69,984. In Ocean County, the threshold is $91,391.
Homeowners also may apply as long as the total annual household income is less than $250,000, but fewer grants will be available. Houses must have been a primary residence when Sandy hit Oct. 29, and the homeowner must have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The DCA estimates the average grant award will be about $100,000. Those who qualify but are not selected will be put on a priority list for future funding.
The other grant homeowners can apply for is $10,000 to help resettle in storm-damaged communities, or at least the county of residence before Sandy. The idea behind this grant, according to the plan approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is to stabilize neighborhoods and encourage homeowners to stay.
The money can be used for any nonconstruction costs, including paying for future flood insurance premiums, which are expected to increase due to new flood maps that will likely be adopted within 18 months to 2 years, according to the plan.
The state has set a priority application deadline of June 30, but applications received after that deadline will continue to be processed. Those with the most need still will be prioritized, the DCA said.
The Department of Environmental Protection continues to put in place its vastly expanded Blue Acres program, which will spend $300 million to buy out storm-damaged and flood-prone houses.
DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said that caseworkers already are contacting residents in two Middlesex County towns, South River and Sayreville, to start the buyout process as the agency continues to develop the program.
As grant applications have opened, the state also is warning of scams. The DCA said last week a resident who had applied for a housing assistance grant was contacted through a phone call and told they had won a grant through the “Renewjerseystronger Foundation.” The resident was told they needed to pay a fee to be eligible.
There are no fees to apply for authentic public grants. Anyone who has been contacted by someone requesting a fee regarding the grant process is asked to call the New Jersey Attorney General’s Statewide Sandy Fraud Working Group at 855-726-3939 or visit www.stopsandyfraud.org.
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