New Jersey will focus on helping low- to moderate-income residents affected by Hurricane Sandy when spending its first round of federal storm aid, according to a state plan released for public comment Tuesday.
More than 50 percent of the $1.8 billion in grant money will be allocated for low- to moderate-income households, with the Christie administration estimating that more than 20,000 homeowners and 10,000 businesses will see some level of help, according to the plan by the Department of Community Affairs. The plan must be approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“These programs have been carefully, but quickly, designed to fill the unmet needs faced by our residents to rebuild in a safer, more enduring way,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a news release.
The plan includes the state allocating $600 million to provide eligible homeowners with grants of as much as $150,000 to rebuild and raise their storm-damaged houses. About 70 percent of that money will be reserved for low- to moderate-income households, according to the plan. This money is part of the first disbursement of the $51 billion federal aid package approved by Congress in January. The first allocation of $5.4 billion in grant money will be divided among five states plus New York City, with New Jersey receiving $1.8 billion. Of that allocation, at least 80 percent of the money must be spent in the counties most affected from the storm, according to requirements published March 5 in the federal register.
The program also requires the state set up a detailed plan for how damaged housing stock will be built to better withstand future storms and sea level rise. The federal regulations require the state to promote “sound, sustainable long-term recovery planning,” according to the federal register notice. One of the methods each state could employ to accomplish that was to adopt FEMA’s advisory base flood elevation maps as a state rebuilding standard, the notice stated. Christie issued an executive order in January adopting the FEMA maps as the rebuilding standard, and the plan says it will address sea level rise through “appropriate mitigation measures and floodplain management throughout proposed programs.”
The state plan also calls for $200 million to be distributed in grants of as much as $10,000 for homeowners considering selling or abandoning their property. The money, according to the plan, would be for homeowners to “resettle” in their storm-damaged house, which would contribute to stabilizing neighborhoods where residents may be leaving due to rebuilding costs or fears of plummeting property values.
The state also would allocate $104.5 million for zero-interest or low-interest loans to developers or public housing authorities to build new affordable rental units, a portion of the housing stock that suffered significant damage. Another part of the plan would give small-scale landlords as much as $50,000 per apartment to restore damaged rental units to pre-storm condition. Landlords with fewer than eight units would receive top priority for the zero percent “forgivable” loans.
The Fair Share Housing Center, an affordable housing advocate in the state, said it was concerned that the plan did not include enough money for low-income renters.
“Eighty percent of the lowest income people impacted by Sandy are renters. Yet only 20 percent of the people covered by the state’s proposed plan are renters,” said Kevin Walsh, the center’s Associate Director. “Fewer than 1 out of every 20 renters who registered with FEMA would be helped through the state’s plan.”
A report released last week by the Maryland-based group Enterprise Community Partners, found that Atlantic City had the highest number of people in a single ZIP code to register for FEMA storm aid. Nearly 9,300 residents requested aid, almost a third more than the second highest ZIP code, in Toms River, according to the report. The group most affected by the storm in Atlantic City was poor renters, with nearly 6,000 renters filing for aid, the report said. Of the renters, more than half had an income less than $15,000 a year, the report found.
Beach Haven ranked third in the state for number of FEMA claims filed and the Mystic Islands section of Little Egg Harbor Township ranks 10th, according to the report.
The state also proposes to use $500 million of the allocation for small businesses, which have been denied or excluded from many aid programs, according to the plan. The money will be disbursed through the state Economic Development Authority, including $300 million in grants or loans of up to $50,000 each to small businesses to replace damaged equipment. Also included in the plan is $25 million for tourism marketing along the entire coast.
Details for how people can apply still have not been announced. The public comment period on the plan lasts until March 19.
The state plan involves a number of programs, each with its own criteria for eligibility.Below are a few of the programs for homeowners and small businesses.
Proposed program: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program
What the money is for: Helping primary homeowners rebuild to new flood standards, including raising their houses
Overall cost: $600 million
Maximum individual award: $150,000
Eligibility: The house must be a primary residence and owner-occupied when Sandy struck. Homeowners must have a household adjusted income of less than $250,000 and the homeowner must have registered with FEMA. Priorities will be for those homes that suffered damage that totaled at least 50 percent of the pre-storm value of the house.
Proposed program: Housing Resettlement Program
What the money is for: Helping homeowners move back into their storm-damaged house, particularly if those homeowners are considering selling or abandoning the property.
Overall cost: $200 million
Maximum award: $10,000
Eligibility: The house must be a primary residence and owner-occupied when Sandy struck. Flooding must have been at least 1 foot deep and the homeowner must have applied for other reconstruction or rehabilitation programs.
Proposed program: Small Rental Properties
What the money is for: Helping landlords with fewer than 25 units rehabilitate damaged rental houses and apartments and restore affordable housing stock
Type: Zero interest forgivable loans
Overall cost: $70 million
Maximum award: $50,000 per unit
Eligibility: Existing and new owners of rental properties damaged during the storm. Owners must certify that properties are used for year-round rentals. Units must be targeted for low or moderate income households.
Proposed program: Grants/Recoverable Loans for Small Businesses
What the money is for: Helping small businesses replace damaged equipment, rebuild property, replace damaged inventory or protect against future storm damage
Type: Grants or a recoverable loan
Overall cost: $300 million
Eligibility: Small businesses or non-profit groups where damage from Sandy was at least $5,000. Businesses must have a minimum annual revenue of $25,000 and maximum $5 million annual revenue. Home-based businesses are excluded.
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