Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Asbury Park Press: Sandy aid relief shorting renters

Mar 14, 2013

The devil is still in the details. While Governor Chris Christie announced Tuesday that the cavalry had arrived - with more than $800 million in federal funds to help homeowners and $500 million for businesses are included in New Jersey’s plan for its federal superstorm Sandy money, details about applying for that aid will not be revealed for another few weeks. And the few details that have been released raise troubling questions about whether the most vulnerable and the hardest hit, chiefly low-and moderate income renters, will receive a fair share of it.

The announcement triggers a seven-day public comment period. If the plan is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 20,000 homeowners, 5,000 renters and 10,000 businesses could get grants to help close the gap in the cost of repairing or rebuilding .Once that ends, the plan will be submitted to the Obama administration for approval, after which the specifics will be put in place.

That is a big if.

HUD could amend the plan and it should. As Kevin Walsh, associate director of the New Jersey-based Fair Share Housing Center said, 80 percent of the lowest income people impacted by Sandy are renters. Yet only 20 percent of the people covered by the State's proposed plan are renters, Associate Director Kevin D. Walsh said.

"Fewer than one out of every twenty renters who registered with FEMA would be helped through the state's plan," Walsh added.

On the surface, the announcement must seem like balm to those who sustained some of $3.83 billion in damage to homes and properties caused by Sandy. The programs for homeowners include: $600 million to provide eligible homeowners up to $150,000 to rebuild, repair and elevate damaged primary residences and $25 million to provide up to $50,000 to low- and moderate-income households to purchase a home.

Yet contrast that with the state’s proposal to spend $225 million to expand the stock of rental housing, including zero- and low-interest loans of up to $120,000 per unit for developers and public housing authorities to develop new rentals and zero-interest loans of up to $50,000 per unit to help repair small rental properties damaged by the storm. Another $40 million would be paid to rental property owners as incentives for agreeing to lease to low- and moderate-income households.

But the rental market in New Jersey has always been tough, even before Sandy. The crunch is even greater now as displaced homeowners scramble to put a roof over their heads. Other details the state’s residents are still waiting for include how people apply for these programs, the income eligibility requirements, and when and how the final two rounds of the federal monies for relief and rebuilding will arrive from Washington.

Gov. Christie said this week that these programs “ have been carefully, but quickly designed to fill the unmet needs faced by our residents.” Not carefully enough, though. HUD should insist on a more equitable distribution of funds to assist the renters in our state.

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