Jul 28, 2014
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Mayor: Means Testing Sandy Rebuilding Aid Is a Mistake

Income limits could potentially lock out many Brick storm survivors

Mayor: Means Testing Sandy Rebuilding Aid Is a Mistake

Directing the bulk of aid for residents to raise or rehabilitate their homes to come into compliance with FEMA flood maps toward lower and moderate income residents  is not a wise move and could mean many Brick residents will not receive help, Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis said.

State officials have said federal guidelines for one of the grant programs New Jersey will administer to help residents elevate or rehabilitate their homes require that the bulk of the funds go to those considered low or moderate income.

That could leave many Brick families out of luck, the mayor said at a township council meeting Tuesday night.

"Originally, we were told by people in Trenton that the money would not be means tested, however it is going to be means tested," said Acropolis. "My comment to [federal officials] is, on the waterfront in Brick Township, with mom and dad working, maybe they have a couple kids and make $50,000 each. If they make $100,000 between the two of them, they're still just making ends meet."

The $600 million relief program, titled "Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation," or "RREM" by the state, will direct 70 percent of that funding toward low and moderate income households.

Under the state's affordable housing guidelines for Ocean County, moderate income is considered $51,179 for a single person, $58,490 for a two person household, $65,802 for a three person household and $73,113 for a four person household.

By the same token, a "low income" four person family in Ocean County earns $45,696 per year.

According to the 2010 census, the median income for a household in Brick is $81,868. Males had a median income of $60,769 while females had a median income of $41,361.

Acropolis said he personally brought his concerns to the attention of federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan in a recent meeting to which he was invited. In the conversation, Donovan indicated there could be a way to grant a waiver.

"He does understand, specifically, the needs of New Jersey," said Acropolis.

Under the program, homeowners can qualify for as much as $150,000 to aid in the reconstruction, rehabilitation, elevation and mitigation of damaged homes, a statement from Gov. Chris Christie's administration last week said.

"The $150,000 number sounds good, but if it's means tested, if it's split, there are going to be people in Brick who won't be able to get that money," said Acropolis.

The township council may consider sending a letter or passing a resolution commenting on the RREM program and other aspects of the state's federally-funded $1.8 billion aid program.

"The Christie Administration will dedicate over 50% of funding for low-to-moderate-income households, in accordance with HUD guidelines," the statement said.

Council members also took umbridge with the program's dedication of $25 million set aside for tourism advertising, as well as the fact that some of the package's programs – which include grants to businesses, home buyers and restoring parks and community areas – do not necessarily have to go to Shore area communities.

The state has said 80 percent of the funding will go to Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union counties, which it considers the hardest hit. The remaining 20 percent of the funding can be used in other counties.

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