By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Gov. Chris Christie was back in his comfort zone today, counseling victims of Superstorm Sandy in a hard-hit town.
He came to Keansburg to announce the action plan for a second round of HUD funding, $1.46 billion on top of the $1.81 billion received last year — $390 million goes to homeowners to repair and elevate their homes, $200 million goes to the creation of new affordable rental housing and $100 million goes toward additional buyouts of homeowners in flood-prone areas.
Millions more go toward infrastructure projects, energy resiliency, local government budgets and projects and $5 million will go toward tourism promotion, but something different from last year’s Stronger Than The Storm campaign.
“Half the money is going toward housing because we continue to see that when you have 365,000 homes damaged or destroyed in the storm, we said back in the days after the storm and I’ve said at every one of these events since, this is the longest and most difficult part,” Christie said.
Christie wants homeowner to go to those hardest hit and those most financially in need.
He said the REM program — for recovery and elevation — can’t be perfect.
“We suffered $37 billion in damage from Sandy and the most we’re probably going to be able to expect all in from every program from the Federal government is somewhere between $15 to $20 billion. So you see the math problem,” Christie said.
To those still on waiting lists, Christie said blame Katrina. Billions were wasted or stolen there and so there are extra safeguards built into Sandy distribution.
Irene Neikam needs to elevate her Keansburg home and was happy to see the governor.
“The fact that more people will be coming off the waiting list is great, because like my block and half the town is a ghost. So many homes were damaged and people just don’t have the money to fix them,” said Neikam.
The state says the first round of REM funding helped 5,100 homeowners.
This next round — if approved by HUD — would help another 3,000. But there is a waiting list beyond that, and Christie was counseling patience today.
“All of this is a work in progress. And no one can sustain the type of hit that we sustained in October 2012 and come back overnight,” Christie said.
Aside from his big distraction, there is a rising debate in the state about how well the Christie administration really did with Sandy recovery. Christie said here today, “We did the best we can as quickly as we can.”