Confusion Over Sandy Funding Allocations

By Briana Vannozzi

“If we did not find the housing that we are in now, we would have been left homeless,” said Sandy victim Penny Ryan.

More than three years and eight moves later, Ryan and her family of six are still not back in their Little Egg Harbor home, ravaged by Superstorm Sandy. They’ve got a roof over their heads, thanks to a local church.

“Every day we are living in this storm. In the aftermath of Sandy, every day,” she said.

So it’s tough for her to watch as Sandy affordable housing projects are erected across the state, in areas where residents are predominately back in their homes.

“I think when the state was first awarded the Sandy funds, we all felt that the nine counties that had been impacted there would be some process by which they would prioritize by county. But when the first funding went out there really wasn’t enough data in terms of the damages and how you would prorate funding,” said Founder and CEO of Community Investment Strategies Christiana Foglio.

In fact, when the first pot of money was made available for these affordable housing units called FRM, or Fund for Restoration of Multifamily Housing, 22 percent went to Monmouth and Ocean counties while 28 percent of the nearly $157 million available went to Hudson and Essex combined.

“We were incredibly concerned with how the Christie administration was distributing the first batch of federal Sandy recovery money. And that led Fair Share Housing Center to partner with the Latino Action Network and the NAACP to file a civil rights complaint against the administration back in 2013,” said Fair Share Housing Spokesperson Anthony Campisi.

In 2014, Fair Share Housing reached a landmark settlement with the administration redirecting federal aid to the areas needing it most.

“What happens is, the developers out there are looking for projects. Well, they had these projects in their pipelines. They threw them in for Sandy funding and because they were further along, they got funded. There were very few projects available in those other counties — Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic,” said Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency Executive Director Anthony Marchetta.

According to the head of New Jersey’s Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, HUD told the state they had to spend the money quickly or lose it. So they needed shovel ready projects in those nine priority counties. In 2014, the administration came under heavy scrutiny for affordable housing projects in New Brunswick and Belleville — areas damaged by the storm, but not as hard hit as the shore.

“We had to adjust tranches two and three so that we could make up for a more proportionate distribution of the funds. And we did. In the second round of funding we funded 18 projects. Of those 18 projects 16 were in Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic County,” Marchetta said.

An NJTV News analysis of FRM Sandy funds shows that since 2013, the state has distributed the affordable housing projects more proportionately. During the second round of funding — received in May 2014 — Ocean and Monmouth counties got about 65 percent of the total pot, while Hudson and Essex got just under 10 percent.

“We think we addressed these issues in later round, but nothing’s perfect. Also, to be fair there was damage in all parts of the state so we want to heavily concentrate recovery dollars in communities that have been very highly impact, but there are also provisions to make sure that other communities receive some recovery dollars according to their need,” Campisi said.

The state expects to have the third phase of housing complete this fall. All told there will be nearly 6,000 new units of affordable housing tied to Sandy money by the end of the year.