Restoring housing and shoring up critical infrastructure will be the focus of how New Jersey spends its next round of Hurricane Sandy relief money.
Gov. Chris Christie’s administration said Monday that its plans to spend $1.46 billion in federal storm recovery aid will be the subject of three public hearings next week. The first hearing is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
It wants to use about half the money for housing programs, including grants for homeowners to rebuild and developers to put up new apartment buildings. The state received $1.83 billion in storm aid last year.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the 15 months since Sandy,” Christie said. “My mission remains to ensure that everyone who was impacted by Sandy gets their lives back to normal, and I won’t rest until that mission is complete.”
The next round of money comes as New Jersey works to improve the delivery of aid to those who need it most. Last month, the state severed ties with the company overseeing aid distribution in two large Sandy aid programs, and residents and businesses continue to complain of long delays, endless paperwork and unresponsive bureaucracy in trying to rebuild after the storm.
The administration is also dealing with a claim from the mayor of Hoboken that Christie’s lieutenant governor said Sandy aid would flow to the city if it approved a development project the governor supports. The administration denies making such a claim, which is being reviewed by federal investigators.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Christie’s storm recovery chief, Marc Ferzan, did not directly address Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim. But he did say, “Politics has absolutely no role in disaster recovery.”
Several housing and environmental groups immediately criticized the plan, saying it does not do enough to help low-income residents or adequately address climate change.
“We are very disappointed that the governor appears to be continuing down the same flawed path for this round of funding, one that has not produced the fair and equitable recovery New Jersey deserves,” said Staci Berger, CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network. “Many of these programs were not successful.”
About a third of the next round of money would go toward fixing vulnerabilities that Sandy exposed in the state’s transportation, energy and water infrastructure systems. The $535 million investment would include a proposed “energy bank” to fund resiliency projects and a multifaceted flood hazard risk reduction program. Part of the money would be made available to satisfy governments’ matching funds obligations for infrastructure-related recovery and resiliency projects.
Of the $735 million to be spent on housing assistance programs, $450 million would go to low or moderate-income families.
The October 2012 storm devastated the oceanfront coastline and caused catastrophic flooding in cities including Hoboken and Jersey City. Seventy-one people were killed in or shortly after the storm in New Jersey.
The plan calls for adding $390 million for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation & Mitigation (RREM) Program, which is the state’s largest Sandy housing recovery initiative. This is in addition to the $710 million received last year. It would add $200 million to the $179 million allocated last year for a fund to help develop affordable multi-family rental housing.
It also would allocate $100 million for the New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program to purchase flood-prone homes; more than 270 buyout offers have been made to Sandy-impacted homeowners thus far.
The plan also calls for spending $25 million to develop affordable housing for special-needs populations and $20 million to help stabilize storm-damaged neighborhoods with significant numbers or abandoned, foreclosed or vacant properties.
An additional $5 million would fund a summer tourism campaign different from last year’s “Stronger Than The Storm” ads, which drew fire for starring Christie in the months before he was up for re-election.
The latest spending plan was released the same day that the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued new preliminary flood insurance rate maps for Monmouth and Middlesex counties. The agency said the new maps keep the same risk assessments for coastal areas but now include flooding threats from rivers as well.