By Dari Kotzker
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan came back to New Jersey today to give the keynote address at New Jersey Future’s annual redevelopment forum. He’s been a frequent visitor to the state since he was appointed to lead the federal government’s long-term planning and rebuilding efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Last month, he joined the governor in Sea Bright to announce the first $5 billion of grant money to the region. And for his latest visit, a top agenda item was the loss of $2.5 billion of federal Sandy aid due to sequestration, $800 million of that from the community development block grant funding.
“In the long run as we look at the recovery over the next few months and even over the next few years, what I can definitely tell you is that there will be more than 10,000 families and small businesses that are hurt. That doesn’t include rebuilding our transportation infrastructure,” Donovan said.
The secretary says what’s been successful post-Sandy was announcing the first round of allocations eight days after the president signed the relief bill and providing information to communities on how to rebuild in a smart way.
“We moved quicker than the federal government has ever moved in the past to update where is water going to come in the next storm? What do those flood plains look like? And that has allowed mayors and homeowners and businesses to look at their communities and say, ‘You know what? I need to take these specific steps to protect against the next storm,'” Donovan said.
“We know sea level is rising, we know storms are going to be more severe, we know that businesses, homes, communities are going to be more at risk. And now the political process understands that and understands that the way to fix that is to rebuild differently,” said New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach.
Secretary Donovan says his department has been meeting with New Jersey government officials over the past few weeks to make sure they understand how to submit an action plan to receive the community development block grant funding, and today those official guidelines were released.
“We’re going to take those plans as soon as they’re submitted by the states and move as quickly as we can to approve them to get the money started. So it depends on how quickly the state moves. From everything I’ve seen, the governor is very focused on this. They’re moving quickly, and I would hope that in the next month, we would be able to get there,” Donovan said.
Donovan says when rebuilding, he’s encouraging effected communities to look at towns that invested in dune replenishing or have elevated homes, so when the next storm hits, they will be prepared.