The number of New Jersey residents applying for funds to help elevate their homes is more than twice the number of grants available, but additional money should be coming to the state within the next few weeks, the head of the Department of Community Affairs said Friday.
A portion of that new money, however, will go toward infrastructure improvements aimed at reducing the risk of fuel shortages and other problems that plagued the state after Hurricane Sandy.
Homeowners have until Sept. 15 to apply for the $30,000 grants to help pay for elevating homes to meet new flood standards.
More than 5,400 applications have been submitted to the program in the roughly five weeks since the Department of Community Affairs began accepting them. However, only 2,700 to 3,000 of those applicants will receive a preliminary approval letter in the coming weeks, DCA Commissioner Richard Constable said Friday. Others will be put on a waiting list.
To be eligible for the program, the house must have been owned and occupied by the person applying for the grant when Sandy struck. However, the house does not need to have sustained damage during the storm, nor did the owner have to apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Federal requirements dictate that work to elevate the house cannot have started before filing and approval of the grant, Constable said. However, repairs made to the home unrelated to elevation will not cause disqualification. The homeowner must pay for the costs up front and, if approved for the grant, will be reimbursed.
Unlike the other high-profile grant programs handled through the DCA, in which low- to moderate-income homeowners had the greatest chance of receiving a grant, this grant program prioritizes those homeowners whose houses need to be raised the highest, Constable said.
“Income is not a priority, but risk is,” he said. “The higher you have to go, for us, is the (higher the risk).”
The $100 million program is funded through FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program.
Cape May County will hold three information sessions for its residents beginning Monday to help them decide whether to apply for the program.
Constable said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has told New Jersey and other states to expect the second round of Community Development Block Grant money in the coming weeks. New Jersey is working on a second plan for how it will spend that money. While guidelines and the total amount remain unclear, Constable said, the state has been told what the focus should be.
“According to HUD, they want all of the states getting a second allocation to focus on infrastructure,” Constable said. “We want to use the money to address issues that could be problematic during the next storm.”
Among the possibilities, Constable said, was ensuring that hospitals and gas stations have access to power reserves so they do not drain generators and finding ways to make sure large fuel trucks can travel on the roads shortly after major storms.
The second allocation “absolutely” will include grant money for homeowners, but Constable said he has no idea how much money will go toward that group.
“There are approximately 6,000 to 8,000 folks on the waiting list for the (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation) program,” he said. “It would be silly not to earmark some of the funds we’re going to get for that population.”
Other money may be used to help increase the number of affordable housing units, Constable said.
Constable said workers staffing the ReNew Jersey Stronger Housing Recovery Centers will go through a significant retraining session this weekend to help reduce the confusion homeowners have complained about.
“Things should be getting better, and I’ve mandated ongoing training,” he said.
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