NJ law aims to update those waiting for Sandy rebuilding grants

 New Jersey Senate President Sweeney, Sandy victims, and housing recovery advocates gather at a news conference on the boardwalk in Belmar. (Phil Gregory/WHYY) (photo by Phil Gregory)

New Jersey Senate President Sweeney, Sandy victims, and housing recovery advocates gather at a news conference on the boardwalk in Belmar. (Phil Gregory/WHYY) (photo by Phil Gregory)

The Sandy Transparency Act signed last week by Gov. Chris Christie will help get storm victims back in their homes, said New Jersey’s Senate president.

Nearly three years after Sandy, about 90 percent of the homeowners in the state run Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program are still not back home, said Senate President Steve Sweeney at a news conference Wednesday in Belmar.

The new law, which he sponsored, requires the state to tell homeowners who applied for financial assistance where they stand in the process.

“We have tight reporting standards that require us to know how much money is going out the door every quarter, and they’re going to know where they’re on the list, what’s the expectancy in time when they’re going to get their check,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “At least now you have a measuring stick, so if it’s not working at this point, we can go right back at them.”

Beach Haven West resident Joe Mangino said he plans to move back into his rebuilt home soon. He had trouble getting information from the RREM program, and he said the transparency measure will be a huge help for other displaced homeowners still waiting for rebuilding grants.

“Now you know that you’re going to be out 90 days, 180 days, whatever it is. That gives you time to get your rental assistance taken care of,” he said. “The program has been extended until 2017 … If I knew that from the beginning, and that was there for me, we could have dealt with what we went through.”

Little Egg Harbor resident Lisa Stevens, who is living in a camper next to the Sandy-damaged home she’s waiting to demolish, said Wednesday the law would have been more helpful a while ago.

“I think I would probably be home by now if this bill had passed in the very beginning,” Stevens said. “I don’t always have access to a computer myself so if something came out I could have missed a deadline for a grant or something.”

Belmar resident Krista Sperber said she hopes to move back into her Sandy-damaged home within 30 days after rebuilding it while awaiting a grant from the RREM program.

“They wouldn’t show me any math. They wouldn’t show me what these numbers represented, scope of work, work in place, they wouldn’t explain any of it,” Sperber said. “If we had had some sort of accountability, and I could have seen this information about my file and seen where I was, I could have made informed decisions.”

Sweeney said legal action is possible if the state Department of Community Affairs doesn’t comply with the law’s requirement to notify those who have applied for help.

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