New Jersey Criticized for Holding Onto Storm Housing Aid

By GEOFF MULVIHILL | November 15, 2013

New Jersey officials said Tuesday that they have distributed just over one-third of the federal aid allocated for housing for families affected by Superstorm Sandy.

The state’s Community Affairs Department released the figure, which contradicts an analysis released earlier Tuesday by two housing advocacy groups that are critical of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration’s storm recover effort when it comes to housing. They found the figure was just 24 percent.

The figures cited in the report by the Housing and Community Development Network and Fair Share Housing Center relied on information provided by the state through open-records requests and press releases. None of the factors was current, though, and some were more than a month old.

Fair Share received its data only after suing the state, saying there was no response to its open-records request for information about federal Sandy recovery grants. The group says it’s trying to understand the grants and the way they have been distributed.

The housing groups say the state has not moved quickly enough to distribute the $1.16 billion in housing aid the federal government awarded it in May as part of a $50 billion storm recovery package approved by Congress in January.

photo by Sharon Karr/FEMA
photo by Sharon Karr/FEMA

“Too many of our neighbors are still couch-surfing or struggling to live in homes that need to be repaired. They deserve better. The money has been allocated through programs that had prior approval from the federal government. We don’t understand why the Christie Administration is not releasing the funds,” Staci Berger, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network, said in a statement.

Lisa Ryan, a Community Affairs spokeswoman, said the state should not be blamed for moving slowly.

“We’ve always said that Congressional inaction on the front end approving the disaster recovery funds would lead to delays on the back end,” she said in a statement. Congress did not approve storm aid until three months after Sandy hit in October 2012.

Ryan also said federal protocols for distributing money have slowed the process. She said the state is trying to get housing assistance to people who need it.

The housing money the state was awarded in May is to be the first of three installments of government aid for the state.

The state announced last week that it wants to shift some of its money allocated from other programs to housing. If the plan is approved, it would help about 1,000 families rebuild or repair their homes.

But that’s a relatively small group of the nearly 8,700 on a waiting list. Funding has been reserved for about 4,300 households already.

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