The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan in its 7th substantial amendment has been undergoing considerable scrutiny. If approved by HUD it will set the rules for the disbursement of the next $1.46 billion in federal Sandy recovery funds. Things did not go well with the initial allocation of $1.8 billion in 2013. This round there have been robust public comments, criticism and anger. Maybe Sandy Czar Marc Ferzan and Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, who administers the program, will get it right this time.
There have been allegations that the 1st round funding was used to help Christie get re-elected. In addition, Fair Share Housing Center criticized it for “an overall lack of organization and planning and raising questions about the fairness of distribution of funds being too favorable toward home owners as opposed to renters.” During Christie’s “Town Halls” recently he has seen protesters and received more than earful of complaints about delays, paperwork, and vague waiting lists. An unresponsive contractor, HGI, which was paid exceedingly well, botched its job, and ended up with its contract quietly terminated for reasons that suggested both the DCA and HGI were at fault.
The net result was expressed by a Sandy victim at the first public hearing where she expressed frustration. She said, “Many of those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm have simply stopped trying after months of struggling with the Department of Community Affairs. It’s just been too hard on their nerves. Besides having a very damaged home and the trauma of the storm, dealing with the DCA was worse.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, NJ Future, and other groups have made recommendations for changes. Today Senate President Sweeney will be in Linden and talk about his community-based proposal. “At the center of his plan is the creation of community recovery resource centers which would be county-based and would be a clearinghouse for Sandy aid programs to help applicants coordinate the services and resources available to them.” NJ Future’s concerns include “1) the need for municipalities to conduct robust risk assessments to identify vulnerable areas and assets, and 2) the imperative for a larger investment of funds in planning to provide affected municipalities with the capacity to develop long-term recovery plans that do as much as possible to keep residents and property safe from future storms.”
There is a saying that the third time is a charm. Let’s hope instead that Constable and Ferzan have learned their lessons from the first round and that the second time it will operate much better. Those affected by Sandy deserve no less.