TRENTON – A new aid program for superstorm Sandy victims will provide payment for temporary housing while their homes are undergoing repairs or being elevated.
The Rental Assistance Program, approved Thursday by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) board, will provide up to $825 a month for up to three months for eligible homeowners who are participating in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) or LMI Homeowners Rebuilding programs.
The program will begin accepting applications March 16. Details on how and where to apply for the aid will be released when the program launches that same day, according to a press release from the state Department of Community Affairs.
“Right now, rental assistance for temporary housing is a significant need for homeowners in our major housing recovery programs,” said Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency Executive Director Anthony L. Marchetta. “The administration recognizes that rebuilding, repairing or elevating a home puts a significant strain on families who are already shouldering a great financial burden. There is a need to help relieve some of that financial pressure and facilitate the recovery process to get families back home.”
The program is funded with $9.5 million from a federal Social Services Block Grant. Of that money, $7.6 million will be reserved for RREM applicants and about $1.2 million will be reserved for LMI applicants.
The rental assistance is for homeowners with signed grant agreements in the RREM or the LMI Program. They must be residents of the nine counties most impacted by Sandy, which includes Monmouth and Ocean counties. Homeowners will be eligible for an additional three months of rental assistance, assuming an extension is needed, and as long as program funds are still available.
Sue Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, welcomed the rental assistance program. The majority of requests for assistance the long-term recovery group receives are from people seeking rental payments while they elevate or repair their homes, she said. The long-term recovery group is an umbrella organization of more than 80 nonprofits that has worked to provide money and volunteer labor to fill gaps between a homeowners’ resources and the actual cost of rebuilding.
Twenty-eight months after Sandy struck, many homeowners no longer have the financial resources to pay for a rental while also paying the mortgage on a home they are repairing or lifting, she said.
“The majority of requests we receive are for short-term rental assistance,” Marticek said. “If there is another opportunity for people to get that money elsewhere, that would free up some of our money for other needs.”
Under the new state program, there must be an outstanding mortgage on the primary residence undergoing repair. Participants must provide proof of their current mortgage payment. Also, applicants must not have completed construction, rehabilitation or elevation of their primary home.
Additionally, all participants must have a signed lease on a rental property since the assistance is paid to the rental property owner, not to the homeowner, as required by federal regulations. The Rental Assistance Program is not retroactive. Funds are only available to assist with rent going forward and may not be used as a reimbursement for previously paid or incurred rent.
The HMFA estimates that the Rental Assistance Program will be able to assist approximately 1,750 Sandy-impacted homeowners, assuming maximum assistance of $4,950 per household for the full six months.
The program will be administered by the HMFA. Rental Assistance Program funds will be available until funding is exhausted, but all of the money must be expended by September 30. The state has a request pending with the federal Office of Management and Budget for an extension of that deadline.
This program supplements the more than $285 million in recovery funding the State already has provided under Resettlement and the Sandy Homeowner and Rental Assistance Program (SHRAP) individuals to assist with non-construction related storm costs, in addition to initial funding provided under FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program. Marticek said about $40 million in SHRAP funds were distributed in Ocean County in the first 12 months after Sandy struck.
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The new Sandy Rental Assistance Program will provide up to $825 a month for a maximum of six months for homeowners participating in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) and Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) Homeowners Rebuilding program. Details on how and where to apply for the aid will be available by the time the program launches March 16.