New Jersey is expected to receive $1.46 billion in the next round of federal Community Development Block Grant dollars to help the state rebuild from Hurricane Sandy.
But to receive the funding, the state will need to meet stringent new guidelines by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Among the guidelines are the requirement that the state detail how climate change will affect proposed infrastructure projects.
“We’re very excited by (the requirements),” said Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a planning advocacy group. “It emphasizes the importance of doing long term risk assessments before you invest in large capital projects and that’s important.”
Unlike the first round of CDBG funding, the new guidelines seemingly have an emphasis on infrastructure projects, with additional approval from HUD required for projects costing at least $50 million. All infrastructure projects, according to the guidelines, must be developed with the most current science in mind for the future effects of climate change and sea level rise.
The guidelines also call for significant changes to how the state is required to get public comments on its plans. The state will be required to have a public comment period of at least 30 days and hold at least one public hearing, according to the guidelines. The guidelines also suggest the state do substantial outreach to community groups, including those serving minority groups, to encourage residents to attend the public hearings or submit written comment.
The first round of CDBG funding gave $1.83 billion to New Jersey, which used nearly $800 million in grants to homeowners. HUD required in the first round that states hold a public comment period that lasted a minimum of seven days. The state Department of Community Affairs, which is tasked with managing the CDBG funding and related programs, was sharply criticized last spring for keeping to the minimum and adopting few of the comments into the final draft of the plan submitted to HUD.
DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said in an e-mail that the agency was “not in a position to comment right now” on the new guidelines.
The state agency must develop a second action plan for how it will spend the $1.46 billion, but has not said when such a plan will be released to the public or how it will solicit comments from residents, businesses and advocates.
The guidelines seemed to be in direct response to earlier criticism by multiple community groups in the state that there was little public involvement and transparency with the first round of funding, said Staci Berger, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, an coalition of groups that advocate for low- to moderate-income residents.
“I think this is an attempt by the federal government to look more closely at what the state is doing,” Berger said. “We really hope the governor and his cabinet members will take the opportunity to hear from the people affected by Sandy and attend the hearings in person.”
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