TOMS RIVER — The state plans to spend most of the half billion dollars in Hurricane Sandy recovery funding allocated to New Jersey in the final round of aid from the federal government on affordable rental housing programs and grants for people who want to rebuild.
But residents who spoke at a public hearing today in Toms River on the state’s plan to spend that money said officials haven’t done a good enough job distributing the money New Jersey has already received. Many expressed continued frustration with the pace of rebuilding programs, saying the protracted recovery has left them drained.
“We’re all hurting financially, medically, physically, every way you can think of,” said Denise Vaccaro, a Forked River resident who is renting in Beachwood as she waits for her home to be rebuilt. “We need help. We need help desperately.”
Vaccaro said she has been preliminarily approved for a grant through the state’s largest rebuilding program, which she described as unresponsive and difficult to navigate.
“Let’s put it like this: hell,” she said.
The four-person panel of state officials listening to residents’ comments at the meeting included Terrence Brody, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding and Melissa Orsen, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. Neither were available for comment following the hearing.
Tammori Petty, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said officials would address the concerns raised during the hearing, giving “individualized attention to each comment.”
The Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, which is known by its acronym, RREM, provides up to $150,000 for storm-related repairs.
The state plans to funnel $225 million from the nearly $502 million New Jersey is receiving from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a third round of funding to the RREM program.
The state also plans to transfer $5 million from a post-Sandy tourism marketing campaign and $25 million from a program to help cover the cost of matching funds to use for the housing grant program.
With that additional funding, the state plans to help the fewer than 2,000 people who have are still waiting for a grant through the program.
Of the $1.1 billion dedicated to the fund in the first two rounds of funding, the state has disbursed more than $436 million as of today and 328 homes have been completed.
“The RREM program is broken folks,” said George Kasimos, a Toms River resident and the founder of the grassroots group Stop FEMA Now. “There’s no help.”
“This is the first time New Jersey has dealt with this,” Petty said when asked about residents’ ongoing problems with the state-run program. “It’s long-term recovery.
In the three-hour long meeting today at Ocean County College, residents said the state should send funding to organizations like the Ocean County Long Term Recovery group. That group, residents said, has helped them more than any government program.
“They know our personal circumstances and we are not a randomized lottery number to them,” said Margaret Quinn of Toms River, who said she was approved and then wrongly denied a grant through the RREM program.
In addition to the additional funding for the rebuilding grant program, the state’s plan calls for putting another $215 million into a fund for affordable rental housing. A settlement reached between the state and advocacy groups that filed a complaint charging the Christie administration with unfairly distributing disaster recovery funds called for allocating additional funding into that program.
The settlement also sets targets for directing that funding to the most impacted communities.
The state’s plan also sets aside $10 million for a fund to repair or replace housing for individuals with special needs and $15 million for additional tenant‐based rental assistance.
Another public hearing is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Bergen Community College’s Moses Center at 400 Paramus Road in Paramus.
Written comments on the plan, which can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, will be accepted through Jan. 15.
Erin O’Neill may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LedgerErin. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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on January 07, 2015 at 7:30 AM, updated January 07, 2015 at 7:35 AM