By Commissioner Richard E. Constable III
In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, approximately 346,000 houses in New Jersey were left damaged or destroyed.
While many New Jerseyans have been able to return home and gain a sense of normalcy, approximately 41,000 residents remain displaced and in need of long-term housing stability. For that reason, providing temporary and permanent housing options for Sandy-displaced residents is a top priority for the Christie Administration, whose disaster housing initiatives are being led by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding.
The Christie Administration is firmly committed to moving displaced households into available apartment units or other temporary housing that meets their needs and are reasonably close to their communities. To this end, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) has partnered with Socialserve.com, a nonprofit organization that is helping to constantly update and add new rental listings to the New Jersey Housing Resource Center by directly contacting landlords in Sandy-impacted areas. DCA is also reaching out to landlords and organizations such as the New Jersey Apartment Association and New Jersey Association of Realtors in order to get up-to-date information on rentals.
We encourage people in search of housing to access the free New Jersey Housing Resource Center by calling the toll free assistance line at 1-877-428-8844 or by visiting www.njhrc.gov and selecting Temporary Housing Due to Hurricane Sandy from the menu of options.
Similarly, we encourage landlords to log on to the website to take advantage of a free, quick and easy way to list their open units. We also encourage them to adjust their lease terms to better accommodate temporary housing needs.
Sandy-displaced residents who are worried about not being able to afford a rental unit have resources available to them. For example, households that qualify for FEMA assistance may use their assistance to pay rent for these rental units. Furthermore, thanks to Gov. Christie’s strong advocacy efforts, FEMA has changed its policy and is now permitting people to utilize up to one month of their assistance to pay for security deposits. This change is enormously important because it helps low- to moderate-income displaced residents, who cannot afford security deposits on their own, move out of hotels and motels and into more stable housing units such as apartments and condominiums.
While most storm-impacted families are receiving financial assistance from FEMA, there is still a sizeable population throughout the state that requires additional resources. The Christie Administration does not want to see anyone fall through the cracks as a result of this disaster; that’s why we have set aside 1,000 vouchers from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program to help low-income households displaced by the storm move into permanent housing.
The HCV program works by making decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private rental market available to very low-income households through direct rent subsidy payments to landlords. The DCA is using the set aside vouchers, which average approximately $9,840 per year per household, to provide “special admission” to the program for income-eligible residents who cannot return to their homes.
We are issuing the vouchers on a first-come, first-served basis to people who are registered with FEMA, who have a gross household income below 40 percent of area median income and who can verify displacement from their housing as a direct result of Hurricane Sandy. If households meet these criteria, we urge them to apply, especially if they are currently staying in motels or hotels.
Sandy survivors can get more information by calling 609-633-6606 or sending an email to Hurricane.Sandy@ dca.state.nj.us.
To help all storm-impacted households regardless of income, the Christie Administration also recently accepted guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that make it easy for managers and residents of 55 and older communities to welcome people of all ages displaced by the storm, if they so choose. As a result of the new guidance, age-restricted communities can open up vacant housing units to evacuees under the age of 55 without fear of losing their protection under the Fair Housing Act against discrimination complaints filed by families with young children. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama accepted similar HUD guidelines following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It will take months, if not years, for some households and communities to recover from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, which is why finding short- and long-term housing options for storm survivors is so critical. Rest assured, the Christie Administration is doing everything it can to return displaced households to as normal a housing situation as possible so they have a foundation from which they can begin to rebuild.
Richard E. Constable, III, is the commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.