Sandy Victims Get Temporary Housing Extension, But Still Face Uncertainty

By Christie Duffy

Sandy victims living at Fort Monmouth got an extension through August. FEMA’s temporary housing aid was expected to expire at the end of next month.

Bob and Pam Vazquez are living at the fort and they’re happy they can stay a few more months. But they’re still worried about rebuilding their home in time.

“It hangs over your head as a deadline and that’s tough. You have that deadline but you’re also waiting on RREM so it seems that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” said Bob Vazquez.

RREM is the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation grant program. It can provide up to $150,000 to elevate and rebuild Sandy damaged homes. The program is funded by the federal government and run by the state. The Vazquezes have been approved for a RREM grant since last fall, but they’re still waiting for a check.

FEMA would not grant us an interview but released this statement: “As part of its continuing commitment to recovery in New Jersey, FEMA has granted a four-month extension beyond April 30, 2014, for the 57 displaced homeowners continuing to reside in FEMA’s temporary housing. FEMA is also continuing to work in support of the state and relevant agencies on their longer-term housing plans.”

“We’re still waiting. Hopefully we’ll hear soon. But that’s what we’ve been hearing since September,” Pam Vazquez said.

I was standing on Bob and Pam’s property, where they want to rebuild their home. It was completely washed away the night of Sandy, and they were forced to swim out of it, literally. It took them two hours to reach the deck of the home just one property away.

The state has fired the contractor it hired to work with people like the Vazquezes, to get them through the grant process so they can rebuild. The contractor, HGI, was fired for poor performance after the extensive delays. HGI has disputed that criticism.

The federal government is now reviewing the contractor’s work. The Obama administration has blamed HGI and New Jersey state government for their management of the contract. While governor Chrisite’s administration has blamed the grant delays on federal red tape. And they say New Jersey has not received enough federal funds to help Sandy victims rebuild.

“We’re at the mercy of our friends in the federal government,” said New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable.

A change was made to the RREM program just this week that’s supposed speed things up. Construction contractors can now be paid in two installments, whereas before it was three rounds of money they’d be waiting on to do complete work.