Six years after Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the New Jersey shore, about 1,200 families still have not finished rebuilding.
On Monday, the sixth anniversary of the storm, the state announced it is making $50 million available to help Superstorm Sandy victims who still have not been able to return home.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced a no-interest, forgivable loan program to help the 1,200 families still in the state’s two main rebuilding programs. They money can be used for remaining expenses over and above the maximum $150,000 grant they may have received.
“We cannot stop until every family in every impacted community is able to walk back through the door,” Murphy said.
The state also will work with homeowners who have been ordered to repay storm aid that was determined to be excessive, and could have some or all of their indebtedness forgiven based on their current financial condition.
Money for the programs comes from unspent federal Sandy recovery funds.
“What should have been a simple process turned into a never-ending nightmare that has consumed my life,” said Doug Quinn, who still is not back into his Toms River home yet. “We struggled for years to rebuild our homes, even as debt piled up. We were all alone.”
The aid is aimed at families who still have not been discharged from New Jersey’s two main post-Sandy rebuilding programs — the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation program, and the Low-to-Moderate Income Homeowner Rebuilding program.
The loan would be uncapped, require no monthly payments, and be calculated based on the remaining work needed to finish the project, taking into account other funding sources available to homeowners including flood insurance and Small Business Administration loans.
Homeowners who accept a loan would be required to live in the home for 15 years following construction completion, and if they sell it before then, they would have to repay a portion of the money.
The state is also helping homeowners facing so-called “clawback” demands in which the government determines they had received too much storm aid and wants some of it back.
People in that situation can apply to the state Department of Community Affairs for an extreme financial hardship allowance. Using a uniform test to evaluate the homeowner’s ability to pay, the state may provide forgiveness of some or all the homeowner’s remaining debt. This includes homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure, the heirs of program participants who have died and homeowners who have declared bankruptcy.
Larry Reid, of Brick Township, said many of his neighbors have gotten “clawback letters,” and said the new policy is a tremendous relief.
“Having that threat hanging over your head, you feel like it’s never over for you,” he said.
The projects will be paid for by redirecting $50 million in unspent federal Sandy recovery funds. The governor said there is about $1.2 billion in Sandy recovery funds that remains to be spent in New Jersey, but Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said most of that is earmarked for beach replenishment or storm protection projects being done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development would have to approve the change in use for the two new programs.