Steamlined process should help speed up grants to those displaced by Sandy, NJ says

With many New Jersey residents displaced by Superstorm Sandy still waiting for grants to rebuild their homes, officials are hoping some changes will speed the process.

The state has earmarked $1.1 billion for the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program. More than $500 million has been awarded to applicants, but only $300 million has been distributed.

The state Department of Community Affairs says the process has been streamlined, allowing program participants to mail in documents and work remotely with a housing adviser instead of having to make repeated trips to a housing recovery center. The number of required site inspections has also been reduced to accelerate repair work.

Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said the latest round of funding requires the state to provide housing counselors to help Sandy victims review their options and make smart financial decisions.

“We are really concerned that people are going to wind up facing foreclosure as a result of not being able to recover or rebuild in a timely fashion,” Berger said Thursday. “And we need to have a strong policy solution at the state level to make sure that we don’t lose homes that way.”

A third round of federal funds is anticipated in the spring, with a large portion expected to go to eligible homeowners still on the waiting list for grants.

Federal officials, including U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, toured Shore areas hard hit by Sandy Wednesday.

They said transparency and accountability are needed in New Jersey’s distribution of federal Sandy aid for programs to help residents rebuild.

Residents need to know where they stand on the waiting list for grant money and when they might get it, Menendez said.

“Something is wrong when two-thirds of everybody who qualifies for the RREM program hasn’t received a penny and when 80 percent of the people still out of their home haven’t been able to start construction,” said New Jersey’s senior senator. “Something is wrong. That’s not acceptable.”

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