Group Sues New Jersey for Criteria for Post-Sandy Grants

By GEOFF MULVIHILL | September 13, 2013

An affordable housing advocacy group sued New Jersey on Wednesday, saying the state is not providing it access to information about how post-Superstorm Sandy state grants are being awarded.

Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Corp. said in the lawsuit that it’s getting calls from families who have been denied grants seeking advice on how, or whether, to rebuild. But the group says it cannot help unless it has more information on why the residents may have been denied funding.

The group said it made a request July 31 under the state’s Open Public Records Act for copies of documents the state and its contractors use to determine eligibility for three federally funded grant programs administered through the state.

Under the public records law, the state has seven business days to grant or deny requests – or to ask for more time. With this one, Fair Share said, the Department of Community Affairs has twice asked for extensions to provide the information, and now says it can have the details on Sept. 20 – nearly two months after the request was made. State agencies often request more time to fulfill information requests.

Fair Share chose to go to court rather than an administrative appeals process in the open records law. The group contends that the documents it requested should be available not only under the state open records law but also under past court rulings.

“What is the big secret around why some of the most impacted victims of Sandy are getting turned down for rebuilding money?” Fair Share lawyer Adam Gordon said in a statement. “The documents that the Christie Administration is using to evaluate who gets money and who does not should be public. No more excuses, no more secrets.”

The state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The grants are a major piece of New Jersey’s post-Sandy rebuilding effort, totaling $850 million, or nearly half the $1.8 billion first installment of federal money that the state controls to aid recovery from last year’s storm.

The awards to homeowners come in various programs.

One gives up to $150,000 per household for rebuilding costs not covered by insurance or other government programs; another gives people who live in storm-damaged homes up to $10,000 for committing to stay in their same county for three years.

Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable told The Associated Press in July that because of limited funding, less than one-third of the 12,000 applicants were accepted. About 3,500 of the total applicants were declared ineligible for the program, and about 5,000 were wait-listed.

Constable said homeowners with low and moderate incomes and heavy damage were prioritized in the program, then recipients were chosen randomly. Those who were eligible but did not get the money were put on waiting lists.

Of the 14,000 applicants for the $10,000 resettlement grants, some 2,000 were deemed ineligible.

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