TRENTON — Sandy victims whose rental assistance was about to run out can now breathe a sigh of relief: the state has agreed to extend the program for an additional year.
The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency board agreed to extend temporary rental help for an additional year for residents who have been forced to pay rent while they are rebuilding their homes. That means eligible homeowners can receive up to 21 months of rental assistance.
Rental assistance is available to homeowners in the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) and Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) Homeowners Rebuilding programs. Homeowners can receive up to $1,300 a month for rent payments.
“The state is taking positive steps to meet the ongoing need of homeowners in the RREM Program and LMI Program for temporary rental assistance as they complete the construction and, in many cases, elevation of their Sandy-damaged homes,” said Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles A. Richman, who chairs the HMFA Board.
The HMFA, which is an affiliated agency of DCA, administers the Rental Assistance Program.
The decision to extend the program came on the same day that 42 nonprofit groups and legislators wrote a letter to Richman, saying that without rental assistance many families would not have enough money to get back home. More than three years after Sandy struck, 69 percent of families in the RREM program are still not back in their houses, the letter said.
“Our fear is that without continued rental assistance many families will lack the necessary funds to both keep a borrowed roof over their heads and finish building their permanent home,” the letter reads.
About 8,300 homeowners are participating in the RREM program. Many have been forced to pay both a mortgage and rent while their home is being repaired or elevated.
“This is happy news for those people who were fearful that they were going to lose that assistance,” said Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, who spoke about the need for more rental assistance at Thursday’s group meeting. “Without that, I can’t imagine what would be happening to these homeowners.”
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HMFA will contact all eligible rental assistance applicants that have already exhausted or will be exhausting all nine months of assistance to inform them of the available extension and review process.
HMFA will begin making extension payments in April and said payments will start no later than May 1. These payments will be for current and future rent only.
The rental assistance program is currently funded with $19.5 million in federal funds, and about $8.5 million has been disbursed, according to DCA. The state will propose to transfer an additional $12.5 million of Community Development Block Grant funds to the program to pay for extended rental assistance.
More information about the Rental Assistance Program is available at http://www.state.nj.us/dca/hmfa/homeownership/owners/ssbg/index.shtml.
Jean Mikle: (732) 643-4050, firstname.lastname@example.org