Statement from Commissioner Richard Constable, Department of Community Affairs:
Fair Share Housing Center’s continued barrage of alarmist press releases about the Administration’s housing recovery efforts are inaccurate, misleading and not constructive to the thousands of Sandy-impacted families whom we strive to help daily. Contrary to their contention, we remain absolutely committed to helping low- and moderate-income families in New Jersey get the help they need to recover from Sandy. Indeed, one of the major purposes of the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery funding is to help low- and moderate-income families. It is a fact that every single low- and moderate-income family that applied to the Resettlement Program and met the program’s eligibility requirements has been approved for a Resettlement grant. In addition, we have asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to shift $35 million of additional funding into the Resettlement Program so that we can award a grant to every single family who is on the program’s waitlist. If HUD approves the proposal, literally every eligible family who applied to the Resettlement Program before the August 1 application deadline will get a $10,000 grant award.
To ensure that all homeowners who applied to the Resettlement and Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) programs online, through our call center or at one of our nine Housing Recovery Centers during the initial application period that ran from May 24, 2013 to August 1, 2013 had an equal chance to be selected, the order in which applicants were selected was determined by a computerized random ordering process. Grant selection was then prioritized for homeowners with the most damage, whose primary residences are in the most impacted counties, and who have the greatest financial need. This random ordering and prioritization during the two-and-a-half month application period was necessary due to limited federal funding we have for the Resettlement and RREM Program. Race and ethnicity absolutely did not factor in to the application processing. In fact, we adopted the randomized process to ensure equal access for LMI, elderly and disabled individuals. We also set a goal to weight the percentage of RREM grant awards according to the percentage of damage in each of the nine counties that HUD designated as the most impacted by the storm, normalized to 100%. We set this goal even though there was no requirement by the federal government that we do so. The methodology was effectively deployed, resulting in a percentage of RREM preliminary awards issued that fairly closely reflects the percentage of damage in each of the nine counties. In those instances where it does not, it is because there was an insufficient number of eligible homeowners with substantial damage who applied in those counties.
The programs’ application selection process and eligibility guidelines, including those for manufactured homes have never changed since the programs launched on May 24, 2013. Since the programs began, eligibility guidelines and funding priorities have been clearly stated at www.renewjerseystronger.org, the main housing recovery website. Manufactured homes that are owned by the occupant and fulfill all of the eligibility criteria have always been eligible for the RREM and Resettlement programs. Manufactured home owners did apply. Indeed, approximately 10 have been preliminarily awarded a RREM grant. In addition, it is our intent to commit future funds specifically for people who own manufactured homes.
Finally, we absolutely want to give Sandy-impacted families who have applied to our housing recovery programs the information that they need to assist them in their recovery effort. It is why we set up a website, call center, nine Housing Recovery Centers and a Sandy Recovery constituent services team. It is why we have assigned a Housing Advisor to every family who has been awarded a RREM grant and is working their way through the program’s process. We are constantly working to ensure that front line staff such as Housing Advisors, call center technicians and constituent services personnel who are assisting Sandy-impacted families are appropriately trained. There will sometimes be errors because, unfortunately, people make mistakes, but whenever issues are brought to our attention, we work vigilantly to immediately address them.