“Stop FEMA Now” continues advocating for Sandy Homeowners
Two-and-a-half years after Sandy, tens of thousands of New Jersey residents displaced by the super storm have been unable to return home. The "Stop FEMA Now" movement seeking massive reforms discussed some of the issues victims continue to face on "Townsquare Tonight," Wednesday on WOBM AM 1160 & 1310.
Dr. Phil Nufrio, Professor of Public Policy, Administration and Emergency Management at Metropolitan College of New York, understands the obstacles first-hand as a Sandy victim from Seaside Park, and as an advocate for "Stop FEMA Now," blamed Bureaucratic obstruction with roots in a system dedicated to procedures instead of to results as a major concern.
Nufrio interviewed and surveyed a number of storm victims fed up to the point of wanting to file a class-action lawsuit, and came up with some common denominators on issues that arose during the roll-out of programs offered by the New Jersey, including the state's failure to follow through with grant money and then placing the money on numerous compliance holds or delays that he said make no sense.
"Many of the victims have been dealing with this fluid change in policies from the get go. Every week there's a new policy," said Nufrio.
In New Jersey's Reconstruction Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation or RREM Program alone, 11,000 homes are still waiting for money, according to Nufrio.
"Where they've only had, according to the 2015 Fair Housing Report, only 328 homes within the last month was reported as being complete," he said.
RREM was modeled after Louisiana's "Road Home Program," which was funded by $11 billion dollars, according to Nufrio.
Nufrio said New Jersey received roughly $8 billion for Sandy Housing Recovery, but only earmarked only $1.1 billion for its RREM program. By contrast, New York dedicated $5 billion to its comparable RREM program called "New York Rising."
"RREM was designed to assist the bulk of the 40,000 damaged properties. It was conceived as a supplemental program to help homeowners meet unmet needs as the result of insurance settlements that prevented homeowners from full recovery," said Nufrio. He said it remains unknown why New Jersey's RREM program is so underfunded.
Nufrio also said mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina ten years ago were made in New Jersey, and that the state was using New Orleans consultants.
"Many victims who receive both the RREM money and FEMA funds are now being asked to return those funds because they violated duplication of benefits, which was another major policy that came out of Louisiana," he said.
Sandy victims were encouraged by both the state and Small Business Association (SBA) case workers to apply for loans to meet their unmet needs, according to Nufrio.
"Then they went on to learn later, if they took the SBA loan, it would unqualify them for any future grant money," he said, also noting Louisiana wasn't under the same requirement.
"Now many of these victims with SBA loans are being saddled with a second mortgage, and many of them now can't meet their obligation, and now their homes are going into forebearance. A recent report found that by the end of 2014, over 300 Sandy homes were in mortgage forebearance or foreclosure. New York is facing the same issue also," said Nufrio.
Nufrio said many Sandy victims who qualified for the RREM program but were denied and want to appeal, have to deal with another process-oriented procedure that is painstaking.
"There's also hundreds of cases of mismanagement, which resulted in hundreds of homeowners having to change their rebuilding plans before or after the fact. To many, this mismanagement has cost homeowners thousands of dollars, and having to change their rebuilding plans or the loss of their homes due to non-compliance that were deemed non-compliant by mortgage companies," Nufrio added.
Listen to the full interview here:
Paul Weberg from FEMA Region 2 is scheduled to appear on "Townsquare Tonight" on April 8.