Nearly 80 community groups and religious organizations are asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to consider changing how New Jersey will spend $1.8 billion in federal Sandy aid.
The groups, which include the Second Baptist Church of Atlantic City, Cape Counseling Services and The Fellowship of Churches in Atlantic City, said in the letter sent to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan that the plan, as submitted by the state, lacks fairness and promotes rebuilding without improving storm resiliency and consideration for climate change.
“The plan still requires significant improvement to ensure a sustainable and fair rebuilding that includes everybody impacted by Sandy,” the letter states. “The submitted plan promotes rebuilding communities just as they were, without any substantial consideration for planning for rising sea levels and changing weather conditions.”
The letter comes a day after the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center filed suit to get the Christie administration to release contract documents for CDM Associates, which was hired to help the state Department of Community Affairs compile the spending plan.
Kevin Walsh, the center’s associate director, said his group has been trying since February to obtain the contract information through the state’s Open Public Records Act, and the state continues to delay releasing information.
According to the spending plan, many of the grants will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Numerous groups, including the Fair Share Housing Center, have warned that this method could lock out some of the neediest homeowners from being able to obtain the grants.
Among the ways the state intends to spend the money through Community Development Block Grants is by providing certain homeowners with as much as $150,000 to raise and rebuild storm-damaged houses.
Comments to the state from community groups and municipalities warned that the plan did not contain enough money or specifics for helping shore towns better plan and enforce codes in storm-damaged communities.
“These funds should be directed to local governments, and the state should require that this necessary planning be completed in short order,” Keith Mills, Atlantic City’s Director of Development and Planning, wrote in his comments to the state.
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