On March 12, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development held a hearing, “Superstorm Sandy Recovery: Ensuring Strong Coordination among Federal, State, and Local Stakeholders.”
A major topic of discussion was the slow rate of the expenditure of Disaster Community Development Block Grant (d-CDBG) as well as implementation of New Jersey’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) and Resettlement programs. HUD Secretary and Sandy Rebuilding Task Force Chair Shaun Donovan testified.
Subcommittee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) had multiple concerns with the implementation of the RREM program, as well as numerous issues related to rental housing. He asked about the current program structure in which environmental reviews are not conducted until all other parts of the application are reviewed and if it would be a better idea to have the environmental and historic preservation reviews at the beginning of the process. Secretary Donovan responded that this could be a possibility, though there is the risk of the environmental review being conducted and the household subsequently being found to be ineligible for assistance. Secretary Donovan noted that states would not be penalized for taking this approach, and added that HUD and the Environmental Protection Agency are coordinating with states on this and other matters.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) expressed concern that while housing recovery dollars have been distributed in New York State, no funds have been distributed in New York City. Secretary Donovan replied that he is aware of the problem and that he talked with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio this week.
HUD Secretary and Shaun Donovan said in his written testimony, “The Department is well aware of the frustration voiced by many communities and residents over the pace at which CDBG-DR funds have been distributed by our grantees. However, we are seeing the pace of expenditures increase and it is important to understand both the timeline as well as what it takes to implement programs of this scale.”
The hearing was held as HUD prepares to distribute an additional allocation of d-CDBG funds to the states impacted by Super Storm Sandy. Witness Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, NJ, said in his testimony, “The allocation of these funds provides a singular opportunity for many people impacted by Sandy, perhaps the last opportunity, to get this recovery on track and help people rebuild.” Secretary Donovan said that HUD and states will reach out to households who have been “left out” of previous funding rounds with this next infusion of money.
Mr. Gordon noted that in previous funding rounds, many applications were incorrectly rejected. According to Mr. Gordon, 80% of denials of assistance were in error and many were reversed on appeal. However, he noted that “most people didn’t appeal the denials because they didn’t know about the process, were concerned about the potential costs or bureaucracy involved, or didn’t think it mattered. In fact fewer than one in three people (who were) rejected appealed, and African-Americans and Latinos appealed at particularly low rates.” Further, Mr. Gordon said that information on the Spanish-language site was incomplete and incorrect, and was not updated for long periods of time even after the discrepancy in information made available was flagged.
Mr. Gordon also said “so far, only 25% of housing funds made available from the federal Community Development Block Grant have gone to renter programs, despite renters constituting 40% of (those whose homes were) damage(d).” Further, “In particular, New Jersey has made very little money available directly to help renters impacted by the storm. While homeowners have been eligible for over $200 million of Resettlement grants of $10,000 in immediate funds to help people get back on their feet, the State has only just now proposed a $15 million program for renters.” Mr. Gordon also expressed concern that funds have not gone to the areas with the greatest need, and that he hopes that these problems will be rectified with the next round of funding.
Watch an archived hearing webcast and read all witness testimony at: http://1.usa.gov/1cRlBEq