The administration of Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that the bulk of the $1.46 billion in the latest round of federal storm recovery aid set aside for New Jersey will go toward housing and rebuilding assistance.
The administration unveiled a proposed amendment to its storm recovery plan detailing how the additional funding would be spent.
The announcement of the federal aid allocations comes as Christie's administration faces allegations of using recovery dollars to pressure Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer over a proposed development project, as well as using recovery funding
toward a senior citizen housing complex in a town which received little to no storm damage.
has since been called into question, however, while Christie has sought to push through a host of scandals that have plagued his administration.
The spending plan proposed by the state Monday is subject to federal approval and a
month-long public comment period.
The largest allocation of the funding will be used to continue the state's Rehabilitation, Elevation & Mitigation, or RREM, program. Under RREM, the owners of primary residences damaged or destroyed by the storm can qualify for up to $150,000 to repair or rebuild their homes under current building codes.
The program will receive a $390 million influx of funding that would be added to the initial $710 million the program received.
Though the program is responsible for helping to rebuild or repair thousands of homes, it has faced criticism from two ends: affordable housing advocates who say larger portions of funding should be directed toward low income homeowners, and coastal residents who say the income reservations placed on the program are already too burdensome and lock out many middle class storm victims in the worst-damaged areas.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that half the funding focus on low-to-moderate-income households. The latest round of funding will enable approximately 3,000 eligible homeowners to move off of the program’s waitlist and begin the grant process.
Another $200 million will be allocated for the Fund for Restoration of Multi-Family Housing, with the aim of developing "affordable multi-family rental housing," the administration said in a statement. The funding would be added to the $179 million allocated to the program in the first round. To date, funding has been committed to 36 affordable housing projects to create nearly 2,500 housing units for low and moderate income residents.
The state will also commit an additional $100 million to the buyout of flood-prone areas under an expansion of its Blue Acres program. Since the storm, more than 270 buyout offers have been made to Sandy-impacted homeowners, primarily in Middlesex and Cumberland counties.
Additional allocations include $25 million toward building permanent, supportive housing for special needs citizens and $20 million to "stabilize" neighborhoods affected by the storm that were already suffering from high numbers of abandoned, foreclosed or vacant properties. According to state officials, funding has already been committed to 30 projects that will build 170 housing units for low and moderate income residents.
In all, state officials said $450 million of the $735 million allocated to housing recovery will be dedicated to low and moderate income residents.
Infrastructure Projects Also Planned
Public infrastructure projects are also a focus of the state's updated plan for recovery dollars.
A total of $225 million has been set aside to help government entities meet federal funding match obligations for a variety of recovery and resiliency projects. The projects include repairing or constructing roads, bridges, levees, public buildings, water and sewer treatment plants, power generation and distribution facilities, sand dunes, beaches, telecommunication systems, and recreational facilities.
Another $210 million will be allocated to the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank, which will be used toward projects that will beef up the state's energy grid in order to more reliably power water treatment plants, hospitals, shelters, emergency response centers and transit networks in the event the larger electrical grid fails.
The state has also pledged $100 million toward flood hazard mitigation projects. These projects will include the construction of flood walls and pump stations, as well as wetlands restoration, permeable pavement, rain gardens and bio-retention basins.
Local governments will benefit from $90 million allocated toward communities that lost their ratable bases during the storm and are now suffering from budget shortfalls.
There were several smaller allocations included in the plan, such as $10 million for the demolition of storm-damaged buildings that are still standing, and $5 million for tourism marketing in Sandy-affected areas. Another $15 million was dedicated to local governments' planning projects and to fund expanding zoning and code efforts in towns that are rebuilding.
Federal Funding 'Coming to the End'
The latest round of funding may be the last opportunity for the state to receive money for housing assistance, said Marc Ferzan, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding.
There will be a third and final allocation, Ferzan said, though it is not clear if the federal government will allow that round to go toward the continuation of assistance programs.
"We are coming to the end of available funding," said Ferzan. "Demand for the existing programs has far outpaced available funding. Most of the programs have wait lists and unfunded pipelines. By virtue of those unmet needs … we have difficult choices to make."
The answer, he said, is for the state to take a "holistic" approach to allocating the latest round of funding in order to help improve primary and rental properties as well as local government in order to ease the tax burden in storm-affected communities.