Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced a helping hand: New Jersey is officially redirecting up to $100 million in Sandy disaster aid to help the nearly 1,000 individuals and families remaining in the state’s largest disaster rebuilding program.
“We now have hope that all Sandy families will have the financial support they need to finish their rebuilding projects, to return home and to truly make New Jersey whole again after the worst natural disaster in our state’s history,” Murphy said during a news conference at the Shark River Municipal Marina in Neptune
As of the end of March, 957 applicants were in the construction phase of the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) program or its sister initiative open only to low- and moderate-income homeowners.
Nancy and Tony Caira are one of those families who have spent the last 78 months in limbo.
As middle-class owners of a modest 800-square-foot bungalow, the Cairas are the type of people who are disappearing from the Shore.
To hear Nancy tell it, they might have been one of those who cut ties, except they had no better option financially than to gut the house and live in it until they could demolish, rebuild and elevate a new home on the same footprint.
The Cairas didn’t think that would be their reality for the next six and half years and counting.
“It just wears on you,” said Nancy Caira, 52, who fought through nerves to introduce Murphy at the beginning of the event.
Short of what they need by $102,000, the Cairas believed that they’d missed out on their opportunity as they watched nonprofits and charities wind down their operations in New Jersey.
“As delays and the time went on, that money was no longer available,” Caira said. “The supplemental fund is really going to be our lifeline.”
The centerpiece of Murphy’s announcement, the supplemental fund is a newly created $50 million pool available to homeowners who have yet to finish construction — or even start, as in the Cairas’ case — because they don’t have the resources to do so.
Homeowners who take the money are required to live in the rebuilt homes for at least five years. The administration anticipates these funds could be put to use as soon as this summer.
Murphy also announced the extension of rental assistance for people who have to move out of their home during construction.
That program pays up to $1,300 per month for up to 40 months of housing for displaced families in the RREM program. Previously, assistance was cut off after 21 months.
Murphy, accompanied by some of the same faces, teased these plans during a speech in Union Beach on the sixth anniversary of the storm.
The funds come from a $4.2 billion pot of money committed to New Jersey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2013. About $1.2 billion of that has yet to be spent.
“We knew that the road to recovery would be long,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey. “We knew that rebuilding our homes and communities would be less of a sprint and more of a marathon. … The marathon is not yet over, but today I see the finish line on the horizon.”
The New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots group that has been advocating for Sandy victims, is hosting community meetings during the next several weeks to help connect eligible homeowners with these newly available funds:
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