Housing advocate sues New Jersey for information on Sandy rebuilding grants

Alexis Norton sat at a table with several friends this week, swapping stories about rebuilding her Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, home after Superstorm Sandy.

Among the topics covered: FEMA flood maps, local bureaucracy, and confusion over the status of her applications with several of the state’s federally funded grant programs.

“No money, no money, no money,” she laments. “I’m qualified, but no money.”

It’s a common refrain at the Shore where the damage from Superstorm Sandy far surpasses the government funding available for repairs.

However, the Fair Share Housing Center, a New Jersey nonprofit housing advocate, is now suing the state of New Jersey for access to information about the criteria used to determine which Sandy victims will receive federal money through three major grant programs.

“There’s no clear criteria for who is getting these grants, which is $850 million in federal funds, and who doesn’t get them,” explained Adam Gordon, a staff attorney with Fair Share Housing Center. “There are people who are being asked to go through form after form to fill out with no clear way to get the funding they need to rebuild. We’re at a point where people have had enough.”

At the end of July, Fair Share Housing filed an Open Public Records Act request for guidelines that explain the selection process of three grant programs: the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program; the Resettlement Grant; and the Fund for Rehabilitation of Small Rental Properties. Together these programs account for $850 million in grants.

Having not yet received the requested information, the organization filled a lawsuit Wednesday in the Law Division of New Jersey Superior Court of Mercer County to compel the state to release it.

State officials have previously said the grants prioritize low-income households in the nine most damaged counties along the Shore.

“The focus is on homeowners who are most in need – by income, damage, and location,” said Richard Constable, the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, during a June interview with NewsWorks to explain the application process for grants administered by his agency.

A spokesman for the Christie administration declined to comment on the suit except to say that the state is dealing with limited resources, which are allocated according to guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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