New Jersey has disproportionately rejected Hurricane Sandy aid applications by minorities, data released Thursday by a housing advocacy group show.
Data obtained through litigation by the Fair Share Housing Center show that more than 38 percent of African Americans and more than 20 percent of Latinos were rejected for Resettlement Program grants, compared with 14.5 percent of Caucasians.
Adam Gordon, staff attorney for the Cherry Hill-based nonprofit, said the information released by the state does not include an explanation of the rejections.
“The governor promised this would be a transparent recovery, and that promise hasn’t been kept,” Gordon said. “There should be clear information why some people are getting this money and some aren’t.”
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie did not respond to a request for comment, but state Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard E. Constable III, in a written statement, called the housing center’s report an “outrageously false implication.”
“To be absolutely clear, eligibility and qualification for the housing recovery programs were approved by the Obama administration, are objectively based, and do not take race or ethnicity into account in any way whatsoever,” Constable said.
While the reasons for the disproportionate rejections are unclear, Gordon said the results are clear.
“On one hand, yes, some of the places impacted are predominantly wealthy, white beach communities,” he said. “But the numbers (of minorities approved) are lower than what you’d expect, and a lot of people rejected are from places like Atlantic City.”
New Jersey NAACP President Richard Smith said the state has a responsibility to treat all of its residents equally.
“When African Americans are rejected at a rate two and a half times that of whites, we at the NAACP believe it is grounds for an investigation into the overall process and functionality of these programs,” he said in a written statement.
Previous analysis by the Fair Share Housing Center found more than 63 percent of Resettlement Program grants have gone to higher-income households. The program is tasked with helping homeowners return to their storm-damaged properties.
Constable, however, said to date, 44 percent of the $1.2 billion in federal funds allocated to all of the state’s Sandy housing recovery programs has been set aside or distributed to residents. Of that, he said, nearly three-quarters has “been distributed to low- or middle-income renters and homeowners.”
The raw data were not available Thursday for The Press of Atlantic City to analyze independently.
Beyond the alleged disproportionate rejections, Gordon said the Resettlement Program is flawed because renters are ineligible.
“There’s no real justification for saying that renters don’t need help,” he said.
Nearly half of all New Jersey registrants with the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported an annual income of less than $30,000, according to a study earlier this year by the housing advocacy group Enterprise Community Partners. About 43 percent were renters, who typically don't have their possessions insured.
In Atlantic City, renters accounted for 65 percent of all federal aid applicants. Of those 5,975 renters, 84 percent reported annual income of less than $30,000.
Gordon said the renter situation may explain some the rejections, since minorities typically represent a higher proportion of renters, but it’s impossible to tell from the data provided by the state. The state released the information as part of litigation in late November, followed by several weeks of analysis by the Fair Share Housing Center.
“It shouldn’t take litigation for the state to release information about how it’s allocating money,” he said.
The housing center, meanwhile, is collecting information from Sandy victims about their aid experiences regardless of their background. It has also set up a website with information to help victims. While the housing center cannot provide individual legal assistance, Gordon said the website includes links to organizations that do.
Gordon said victims will not be identified unless they give the housing center permission to release their names, but the information helps the nonprofit pursue greater transparency.
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