Poor Families Left Out of Sandy Recovery Funding: Lawsuit

By Queen Muse
|  Sunday, Oct 27, 2013  |  Updated 7:39 AM EDT
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Poor Families Left Out of Sandy Recovery Funding

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Oct. 31, 2012: Seaside Heights, N.J.- Homes sit in ruin next to the Atlantic Ocean after being destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

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It appears not everyone is getting their fare share of federal disaster relief funds in the wake of Superstorm Sandy according to new documents released as a result of a lawsuit filed against The Christie Administration.

Officials from the Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), an organization dedicated to defending New Jersey residents’ housing rights, initiated a lawsuit last month alleging that the administration has failed to make sure resettlement grants were awarded to residents who needed those most.
 
FSHC Associate Director Kevin Walsh says Gov. Chris Christie initially promised to allocate 60-percent of the federal disaster relief funds to low- and moderate-income households. But according to documents obtained by FSHC from the Christie Administration, only 24-percent of the more than 16,000 eligible low and moderate income families have received the $10,000 grant checks.

Walsh says the lack of grants issued to low- and moderate-income families signify the governor’s failure to keep a promise.

“The promises Governor Christie made to use federal funds to help those people impacted by Sandy with the fewest resources to rebuild have been broken,” Walsh said in a press release.

“Does the Administration have any idea of what people are going through? People who want to move back into their homes are frustrated by secret decisions keeping them out in the cold and on friends’ couches.”

Richard E. Constable, III, Esq. leads the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) which is listed as the defendant in the suit. Constable says the administration did aggressive outreach to make sure families were aware of the grant program and that they knew how to apply for the grants.

“There has been significant outreach to low- and moderate-income families impacted by Sandy. Case in point, we canvassed low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with flyers and door hangers in such Sandy-impacted towns as Atlantic City, Little Egg Harbor Township, Union Beach and Keansburg,” Constable said.

“We are committed to helping low- and moderate-income families in New Jersey get the help they need to recover from Sandy. In fact, every single low- and moderate-income family that applied to the Resettlement Program and has been approved for a grant will receive a $10,000 check if they haven’t already.”

FSHC staff attorney Adam Gordon says group pursued the lawsuit after numerous families impacted by Sandy contacted the organization complaining that they did not have enough information about the grant application process. Gordon says Sandy victims’ confusion about the process is due to a lack of transparency.

“It’s a year after Sandy and the level of frustration we hear from people -- everyday -- who say they can’t get the help that they need is disappointing,” Gordon said.

“The governor promised this was going to be a transparent recovery process and he made a specific promise that this program was gonna focus on the people who needed the most help; that includes the poorest people and middle class families as well that are having trouble rebuilding. That promise has been broken.”

The lawsuit seeks the release of all documents related to the State’s Sandy recovery funding and accuses the Administration of violating the Open Public Records Act and the common law Right to Know. Gordon says the public should be able to see exactly how the Administration spent the $1.8 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery funds it received.

“You shouldn’t have to sue in order to see this information,” he said. “This should be on a web site for everyone to see. We want the governor to keep his promise of transparency and we think everyone should have a shot at rebuilding; and the people who need these funds should have access to them."

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