ORTLEY BEACH - Paula Galida’s home in Ortley Beach is now a vacant lot; the house had to be torn down after Superstorm Sandy because of severe foundation damage. But almost a year later, the Galidas are still waiting for help from the state. They applied for a $150,000 Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation grant. But on July 8, nearly a month before the application deadline, Galida and her husband received a letter from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, informing them that “at this time, available federal funds…have been fully awarded,” and they had been placed on a waiting list. “If you lose everything and you don't get a dime out of it, it kind of makes you feel like you're a second class citizen,” she says.
John Rimmer is unemployed, and spent most of his savings to rebuild his home on the Waretown-Barnegat border because of severe flood damage caused by Sandy. He was grateful to be approved for a smaller $10,000 grant from the Homeowner Resettlement Program. But while his neighbors all received their grant checks in July, Rimmer is still waiting for his. “What’s going on?” he asks. “It seems like a simple thing. It was simple for the other people, why wasn’t it simple for me?”
New Jersey received $600 million in federal funds to provide relief to homeowners impacted by Sandy. But nearly a year after the storm, Rimmer, Galida and thousands of others are still waiting for help, and many have contacted Kane In Your Corner with questions about how the money is being awarded. “They say there’s all this money out there,” Galida says, “but we didn’t get any and I don’t know of anyone that did.”
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The grant process has evoked enough of a concern that the Fair Share Housing Center, an affordable housing advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the NJDCA last week, seeking an accounting of all grant money that’s been handed out, and the criteria used to decide who received it. The group originally sought the information in July under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, but went to court when the state failed to turn it over by Sept. 12, two months after the legal deadline. The group says it’s heard many of the same complaints from homeowners that Kane In Your Corner has.
“We’re hearing different people in the same neighborhood with the same level of damage getting different answers,” says Adam Gordon, an attorney with the Fair Share Housing Center. “There’s sometimes, almost a bait and switch. They tell people they’re approved and then they can never actually get a check.”
The NJDCA declined a request for an on-camera interview, but by email, spokesperson Lisa Ryan says there is still hope for families like the Galidas, who are on the waiting list for the larger RREM grants. “3,545 New Jersey homeowners have received a preliminary award,” Ryan wrote. “We believe many homeowners won’t need (the full) $150,000…therefore some of the applicants on the wait list will be served.” Ryan also says another round of federal funding is expected soon.
Asked why all funds from that program were awarded a month prior to the Aug. 1 application deadline, Ryan responded that the department began issuing approvals following the original application deadline of June 30. Although that deadline was extended, she said anyone who applied after the original June 30 date was automatically wait-listed, as were many people who applied before.
As for Rimmer’s problems getting his smaller Homeowner Resettlement grant, officials with the state’s call center in Lakewood informed him the process has been delayed because his house was on the border; it has a physical Waretown address but a Barnegat mailing address. But records show the state was made aware of that by July 2. “I keep getting told…’Oh, it’s being verified, it’s being verified’,” Rimmer says. “What’s being verified? I live here.”