At a press conference at the Statehouse in Trenton yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie delivered a statement on jobs and the economy and then proceeded to accept questions from reporters.
In response to a question about the status of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) program, Gov. Chris Christie said that the state has done an “extraordinary job” with the Sandy recovery, adding that people thank him when he visits the Jersey Shore.
The state administered RREM program provides eligible homeowners with grant awards up to $150,000 along with a housing advisor and project manager to help usher recipients through the rebuilding or elevation process.
“So, you know, we’ve done an extraordinary job here. And I will tell you that, whenever I go to the Jersey Shore, all I get from folks are ‘thank yous’ about how well the state has responded, how great the situation is three years after Sandy,” he said. “Um, and, as I’ve said a number of times, I won’t be content until everyone’s back in their homes.”
Christie said that everyone who applied to the RREM program has received their grant but blamed the slow pace of rebuilding on a dearth of “competent and qualified” contractors.
“So it’s no longer a government issue in the sense that the money is there and ready, so it’s gonna take time,” he said.
New Jersey has fared “much better” than in post-Katrina Mississippi, according to Christie.
“We’ve made great progress in three years,” the governor noted, adding that homebuilding and elevating “takes time.”
In a recently released investigation, NBC10 found that around one out of every three homes has been fully rebuilt in the RREM. According to the investigation, 2,774 out of 7,774 homes in the program have been rebuilt, with 600 in the latest quarter of 2015.
Even though the data indicates that the pace of rebuilding increased late last year, frustrations abound.
“RREM is nothing but incompetence coupled in red tape,” wrote Pelican Island resident Tracy Ridenour in response to a JSHN report and inquiry. “From the top of the food chain down to the inspectors. It’s one thing after another.”
“All we want to do is go home. We’re fighting everyday for the sake of my ten year old little boy,” she added. “I refuse to be a Sandy statistic. Christie has failed on every level possible and it’s time he stepped down but his arrogance will never allow that to happen.”
Tom Miceli of Wildwood expressed displeasure with what he calls a “sea of red tape” when attempting to raise his house.
“The process is obviously designed to confuse, frustrate, and inconvenience the applicant to the point its almost impossible to successfully complete the process,” he wrote. “It’s literally a full time job working with the state to get anything done. They keep changing your case workers and asking for the same documents dozens of times, many needing to be notarized.”
Regarding the general recovery progress, many of those who responded to the JSHN report wondered who was actually thanking the governor.
“Who the hell thanked him?” pondered Adele Pier Puccio. “I drive down to see my family and I’m appalled at the number of homes that are still damaged.”
Glenn Berry put it more succinctly.
“You totally let us down,” he wrote.
See the responses to a question about state progress on Sandy here.