Against the backdrop of ongoing recovery needs more than a year after Super Storm Sandy, NLIHC state partner, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network), and its allies continue to engage in numerous activities to urge Governor Chris Christie to equitably distribute federal disaster recovery funds. In June, after hearing from advocates, HUD required the state to equally address the concerns of renters and homeowners in their disaster recovery action plan, but according to the Network the issues still persist (see Memo, 6/14/13). Ahead of the expected $1.4 million allocation of disaster recovery dollars, advocates hope the state will comply with HUD’s community involvement requirements in the development of the next recovery action plan.
On January 8, Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Network, testified before the state Assembly Housing Committee about the progress of Sandy recovery. Ms. Berger pointed out that the concerns advocates mentioned before the committee in June pertaining to recovery funds not being awarded in a timely and equitable manner, and lack of transparency about program guidelines and decision making processes have not been resolved. Disparities with addressing the needs of lower income renters and homeowners was illustrated by a recent analysis of the Star-Ledger, which concluded much of the $4.5 million awarded to New Jersey to date did not go to counties hardest hit by the storm. For example, more than $2 million of it went to landlords in Essex County, which was far less affected than towns along the Jersey Shore.
Approximately 40% of affected households in the state are renters, but according to the Network, not one of the current recovery programs provides immediate housing assistance directly to renters. For instance, the Resettlement Program, which encourages families to remain in their county by providing a $10,000 grant, is only available to homeowners.
Ms. Berger also criticized the state for not using proven program models, but creating new ones without consulting on the ground practitioners about how or if the programs would work. The legislature was urged to be involved in the public participation process for the state’s allocation next plan, and was encouraged to hold its own public hearings.
On January 15, The Network, Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), the Latino Action Network, and the NAACP New Jersey State Conference released the State of Sandy Recovery, an analysis of challenges faced by residents and neighborhoods impacted by the storm. The report, which includes data obtained from the Christie Administration after a 4-month legal battle initiated by FSHC, show that the state consistently under-funded recovery programs for impacted renters.
Advocates found that 75% of the funds for recovery were allocated to homeowners, but only 25% went to renters. The report also shows that while 66% of owner occupied homes were fully repaired, only 51% of rental homes were. In addition, the analysis clearly showed race and income disparities as greater percentages of low income Latino and African American households are still displaced. The racial disparities persist with homeowner recovery funds as few Latinos and African Americans have applied to the programs due to poor outreach, and incorrect deadlines, locations and appeals on Spanish language websites. Although few racial minorities applied, they received a higher rejection rate than their white counterparts.
In addition to recommendations concerning equitable funding and distribution of recovery funds, the report calls for transparency and clear guidelines for recovery programs. Advocates discovered that guidelines for several programs were not adopted until months after the programs started, and in some instances, developers and public housing agencies seeking to rebuild properties were given conflicting information about programs, including inadequate notice for mandatory meetings. Advocates will use the report in their efforts to strengthen the recovery process.
“New Jersey residents affected by the storm deserve a fair rebuilding process that treats people and communities with respect and dignity," said Ms. Berger. "Elected officials at every level of government who share our goal of rebuilding neighborhoods and getting people back into their homes should read this report and take corrective action to improve the transparency and fairness of the process. These recommendations can move all of New Jersey forward and rebuild the lives of those affected and restore thriving communities around the state.”
The Network also partnered with state Senate President Steve Sweeney on the Sandy Bill of Rights, legislation to reform the Sandy recovery process. The bill was prompted by several public hearings where storm-affected homeowners and others expressed frustration with being denied grant money without explanation, in addition to unclear application processes, and long wait list for appeals. The legislation aims to address these issues in addition to racial disparities in funding, and includes a requirement that the state distribute funding in accordance with damage from the storm.
View the State of Sandy report: http://bit.ly/1dEFVIu
For more information contact Arnold Cohen, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.