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New Jersey to fund eligible Sandy-damaged homes

By 69 News & Associated Press, (follow: @69news), news@wfmz.com
Published On: May 29 2014 10:15:58 AM CDT

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

STAFFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. -

All New Jersey homeowners who were put on a waiting list for the state’s signature post-Superstorm Sandy housing program will receive funding to rebuild, Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday.

Christie said at a town hall-style meeting in Stafford Township, just inland from Long Beach Island, that a coming allocation of federal disaster aid announced last week will be enough to fully fund the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, known as RREM.

About 5,400 homeowners have already been promised grants of up to $150,000 each to rebuild homes badly damaged in the October 2012 storm.

But some 6,000 others were preliminarily found to be qualified for the grants but remain on waiting lists.

Christie’s administration has made rebuilding damaged homes the centerpiece of its recovery effort. But the going has been frustratingly slow for many homeowners.

The money the state received last year to launch the program was enough to cover only about half the eligible homes. And the firm that ran the application process was fired earlier this year for performance issues that have not been made public. An advocacy group says some would-be applicants may have been excluded because their local governments did not provide them with needed documents.

At his town hall meeting Wednesday, Christie was thanked by one homeowner for the program that’s rebuilding her home.

But he also heard from Sandra Smith, who applied for funds last year to elevate her family’s home in Avon Beach on Long Beach Island. She said officials lost her application materials three times, told her she qualified for negative $2,000, and then lost her paperwork when she appealed. She said customer service agents keep telling her what she was told previously is wrong.

“Every single time I talk to anyone from RREM, I ended up feeling like Alice falling down the rabbit hole,” said the 76-year-old retiree. “Nothing makes sense.”

Sandra Maglio, who lives in Beach Haven West, did not get a chance to speak with the governor but said afterward she received a $56,000 grant but because of administrative problems has not been able to get the work done. Now she fears the grant money will expire.

Christie has pledged to fix the administrative problems as he expands the program to more homeowners.

The state learned last week that it is in line for a third federal allocation of state-controlled disaster relief money of $882 million. That would bring the state’s total to $4.2 billion.

The state has not yet developed a full plan for using the third allocation, but Christie said he intends to use part of it to help the remaining 3,000 homeowners on the wait list.

Christie said Wednesday that the state would soon he starting environmental and historical reviews for everyone on the wait list for the program - something that could make streamline the process for them.

“We didn’t do it before because we didn’t know we were going to have the money,” he said.