The Christie administration released its proposal this week for how it intends to spend the next — and likely final — tranche of $502 million in federal Sandy aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and there were no major surprises.
As expected, the emphasis will remain on restoring housing for homeowners and renters, including $215 million to repair and replace affordable rental units for low- to moderate-income families. A total of $225 million will be earmarked for RREM — the state’s largest housing grant program — with the goal of funding the 2,000+ applicants who remain on the waiting list. Smaller amounts will be dedicated to funding housing for special-needs populations affected by the storm and for another program to increase the availability of rental units.
Compared with the first round of funding, which totaled $1.8 billion, and the second round, which was $1.46 billion, the $502 million heading to the state this time is much smaller, and it’s also much more focused on a single need — housing — to the exclusion of planning, infrastructure, and economic development initiatives that were included in the past. That was welcome news to Fair Share Housing Center Staff Attorney Adam Gordon, who said he was pleased that money was being reallocated from less critical uses like the “Stronger than the Storm” tourism campaign. Yet there were also some things he was hoping to see that were not in this plan.
“A particularly critical need not addressed adequately in the plan is the thousands of people who are still paying for both a mortgage and rent, and for whom the State Housing Rental Assistance Program and other funds have run out, and who have no idea when RREM money will actually come through so they can move back home,” he said. “People don’t know whether they should sign a lease for another year, or whether they might be back home in a month or two. The Christie administration should do more to tell people still waiting for RREM when they’ll get their money and what, if any, hurdles remain, and help them with interim housing until they can move back home.”
In addition to the $502 million, the state is also preparing a separate action-plan amendment explaining how it will spend $380 million for two giant engineering projects selected last June as winners of HUD’s Rebuild by Design competition.
A proposal by a Dutch engineering team to build sea walls and other measures to protect Hoboken and parts of Weehawken and Jersey City will get $230 million, while another plan created by MIT in partnership with two European design firms will receive $150 million to restore wetlands in the Meadowlands and build a berm to reduce flooding in nearby communities.
Between everything, this coming pot of Community Development Block Grant funding will bring the total amount of HUD Sandy aid New Jersey has received to $4.2 billion.
The administration has scheduled two public hearings on the proposal — on January 6 in Toms River and January 7 in Paramus — and will accept public comments for 30 days before turning it in for federal approval.