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Christie’s Post-Sandy Plan Criticized

An affordable housing advocacy group said Wednesday that Gov. Chris Christie has done a good job of describing the problems faced by low-income residents — especially renters — who were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, but his plan for first big batch of federal storm relief does not do enough to help them.

“We think it really favors certain people impacted by Sandy over other people,” said Fair Share Housing Center lawyer Adam Gordon. “It leaves renters out in the cold.”

Home destroyed in Brick by Sandy
Home destroyed by Sandy (Townsquare Media NJ)

There are other complaints, too. New Jersey’s chapter of the Sierra Club faulted the lack of funding to buy out homeowners who may want to sell — though there is some money for that through another state program. Peter Kasabach, the executive director of the planning-advocacy group New Jersey Future, noted it lacked funding to help towns plan to rebuild “better.”

It should be relatively easy for interest groups to find flaws in the governor’s plan. The state itself found $29 billion worth of unmet need in storm relief across New Jersey — costs not covered by government programs or insurance.

Congress’ $60 billion in storm aid calls for sending a total of $5.4 billion to New Jersey to fill those gaps. And if federal spending cuts that took effect on March 1 remain in place, the amount could be reduced.

The Republican governor’s aides laid out a plan Tuesday for spending the first $1.8 billion allocation for unmet needs, with boosting housing and businesses the top priority. New Jersey officials expect the money will arrive sometime next month. Two additional rounds of the block grants are to follow.

Homeowners could get up to $150,000 toward rebuilding costs and those who say they’re under pressure to move could get $10,000 if they agree to stay in their home for two years under a housing resettlement program. Money has also been set aside for grants and loans for businesses affected by the storm and for business improvement districts, among other items.

Affordable housing advocates have been pressing for provisions to help renters as well as homeowners.

Last week, the Columbia, Md.-based affordable housing group Enterprise Community Partners released a study of Federal Emergency Management Agency registration data that found that 108,000 New Jersey renters — nearly two-fifths of them with incomes under $30,000 — were impacted by the storm.

Many renters, however, have received direct housing assistance through the FEMA, and the study determined most who registered were found to have minor, if any, damage to their homes.

Christie’s plan calls for money through several programs aimed at increasing the availability of rental homes by 5,500. By contrast, the state expects more than 26,000 owner-occupied homes to benefit from the plan.

Governor Chris Christie
Governor’s Office, Tim Larsen

Fair Share’s Gordon, who has argued against the state’s affordable housing policies before the state Supreme Court, said Christie’s proposed program aimed at developers and landlords is fine, but too small.

“Fewer than one of every 20 renters that got impacted by that are getting help,” he said. “What are the other 19 renters going to do? Move to Pennsylvania?”

The public has a week to comment on the plan, so criticism from affordable housing groups and others will be registered.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, said he would not respond to Fair Share’s criticism, but said the state would review all formal comments it receives. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is also to get a say before the plan is finalized.

Many interest groups on Wednesday were still making their way through Christie’s plan. Not all of them had complaints.

“It not only will provide additional assistance for our State’s most vulnerable citizens,” Winfield Ziegenfuss, Jr., the president of the New Jersey Builders Association, said in a statement, “but will also support the creation of a strong and diverse housing stock, especially for low- and moderate-income individuals.”

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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