As tourists head to the New Jersey shore this summer to enjoy a vacation, longtime residents of the coast are still waiting to return home. More than two and a half years after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the coast, thousands of residents are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt and for funding to come through. And this week, the New Jersey department overseeing the recovery announced that almost half of the low-income homeowners who applied for rebuilding aid had been rejected.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) organized a bus tour of the coast to give victims and advocates a chance to speak out about the mismanaged Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program and Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) failed response efforts. While almost 15,000 families applied for the grant program, almost 11,000 of them are still waiting today, according to Fair Share Housing Center’s annual report. And of the more than 1,000 families who applied for the Low- and Moderate Income Homeowners Rebuilding Program, almost half were rejected.
“Low and moderate income, they’re the ones that have the littlest voice and get screwed the most and they can’t stick up for themselves,” Joe Karcz, a Sandy victim who has had to move 13 times since the storm, told ThinkProgress. “Even when I’m back in my house, I’ll be speaking out for those low income and I’ll speak up for my neighbors and I’ll keep it up until everybody’s home and nobody has to go through this bullshit anymore.”
Karcz said he joined the bus tour to demand action and to hold Christie accountable as he eyes a potential 2016 presidential campaign.
“That money in the pipeline — he’s sitting on it and he’s using that money for his presidential hopes,” said Karcz, a single father of two. “I’ve sat with him and I’ve looked him eye-to-eye and he says ‘you’re not going back in that mold infested house.’ And you know what? I spent two years in a row in that mold infested house. So I don’t take anything Christie says to heart.”
The Sandy victims touring the shore on Thursday spoke about the need for additional rental assistance for families still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt and the importance of legislation that would improve the efficiency and transparency of the RREM program.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D) has sponsored a bill which would prevent homes damaged by Sandy from being foreclosed on for three years. Joe Mangino, another Sandy victim who has traveled the country protesting Christie’s response programs, told ThinkProgress the legislation is necessary to prevent him and other victims from losing their homes.
A recent report found that 305 Sandy-affected homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties alone were pushed into foreclosure during the first ten months of 2014. Mangino said his family’s home could be on the path to joining those numbers.
“Since the storm it’s been a struggle but I was never late on a mortgage payment,” he told ThinkProgress. “This past month was the first time I was late and there’s a reason for that — I’m out of money. You know what’s going to happen? They’re finally going to get my house done and I’ll lose it in foreclosure. That’s the sad end of the story.”
But Christie has been resistant to moving forward legislation which would help the victims recover. Early last year, federal officials said they were investigating his use of millions of dollars in Sandy relief funds for ads to promote tourism that also prominently featured the governor. And the state is currently disputing the Fair Share Housing Center’s claim that 15,000 families are still waiting to rebuild, saying it’s “a gross and irresponsible distortion of the facts.”
And he’s continued to ignore or shoot down victims who attempt to confront him about the failed recovery efforts, said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, the director of NJOP.
“We’re not giving up, we’re not getting shut down and we’re going to keep at it until everyone is home.”