By Brenda Flanagan
His voice breaking, Sandy victim Joe Mangino tried to explain his feelings.
“Two days shy of the Sandy anniversary and the emotions are flowing and I’ve been hearing from people and they can’t deal with it,” he said.
As a room full of Sandy survivors told their stories in a special hearing, the Regulatory Oversight Reform and Federal Relations Committee got an earful. Doug Quinn was back in Trenton after attending a protest here last year.
“I lost my home and most of my possessions in Sandy three years ago. Today, that home is still a dirt lot,” he said then.
“They left me in that space — of twisting in the wind — thinking I’m just not going to happen, and no one’s going to speak to me,” Quinn said.
His home’s still a dirt lot, but after complaining to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, Quinn says he was able to get the state Department of Community Affairs to at least fix the problem of lost documents — if not their bad attitudes.
“It was arrogant, it was cold, it was insensitive and it felt like being caught in a chapter of the book ‘Catch 22’. You have to understand how these people have lived. What it’s like to live like a refugee for all these years,” Quinn said.
“I am on the brink of foreclosure. Post-Sandy debt, paying my mortgage which is now raised over $900 because of my taxes going up,” said Julie Suarez.
Suarez is back in her home. She thought she was done. Then she told lawmakers she got a letter from the state demanding $50,000 in clawbacks — Sandy aid money it wanted paid back.
“I know you hear these stories all the time. We all have a little different twist, but this is happening to thousands of people. That’s no small number. These are people that are part of the government program and they’re the ones that are still struggling,” she said.
Out of 7,679 people in the state-administered Sandy rebuilding program, only 699 are back home, case closed. Housing advocates say thousands more dropped out.
“They just gave up. And where are they now? Who knows? There’s no tracking going on to find out what happened to those families,” said Fair Share Housing Center Associate Director Adam Gordon.
“The failure of this administration to include certified housing counseling in the early going — in their initial action plan — was one of the most egregious things I’ve ever seen and significantly harmed our recovery process. There needs to also be an immediate moratorium on foreclosures,” said Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey President and CEO Staci Berger.
Finally, Sandy victims fear a repeat unless policy makers address climate change.
“We want to look forward to a bright future but until New Jersey develops some sort of comprehensive strategy to deal with the extreme weather events and the level rise that is knocking at our door, I feel that future is nothing but a pipe dream,” Mangino said.
Committee members say they’re considering legislation to control clawbacks and that they want to hear from the state DCA and ask them why so many Sandy victims are still suffering four years after the storm blew away.