State Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon hopes President Obama will listen and agree with Gov. Chris Christie’s request and extend the program allowing displaced Sandy victims to continue living at Fort Monmouth and other temporary housing for the next six months.
“Giving the extension, I think, is very reasonable,” considering some of the obstacles families continue to experience as they work to rebuild or find other suitable permanent housing, said O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, whose 13th District includes Monmouth County’s Bayshore area and Sea Bright, areas hard hit by Super Storm Sandy.
“We’re down to many fewer people now” who need the use of the units at Fort Monmouth, he said, but those still there, have “more intractable issues.”
In a recent letter, Christie requested that the president extend the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program Transitional Sheltering Assistance. The program has assisted eligible Sandy victims with finding temporary dwellings in hotels, motels and in housing units at Fort Monmouth converted for their use while they work on permanent solutions.
In the aftermath of the storm, the Christie administration lobbied for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to renovate long-dormant housing units at Fort Monmouth, a decommissioned Army installation spanning parts of Oceanport, Eatontown and Tinton Falls. The corps renovated 122 fort units. A firm deadline of 18 months to vacate the site was established after the state of emergency declaration was made following the October 2012 storm. That date is April 1.
There were still 48 families in residence at the fort as of Jan. 20. In addition, the governor’s office said there are an additional 32 families still using government-issued temporary housing units, down from the 85 families that initially selected that option. Those units are mobile home-type units that have been placed in mobile home parks.
“Navigating the aid process has proven to be difficult for many folks,” O’Scanlon said.
There have been many who have over the past 15 months they have had overwhelming obstacles as they sought to rebuild their homes, including government bureaucracy and delayed insurance responses.
“The holdup has not been the fault of the homeowners” in many of these cases, O’Scanlon said.
The concern is that these folks will be forced to move in April while continuing to work on permanent solutions. “No question it would be disruptive if they have to move twice,” he said. “We really would like to avoid that.”
As it stands, FEMA will have to wait, too, until the White House makes the final determination on Christie’s request. “They’ll have the final say,” said Alberto Pillot, FEMA public information officer.
FEMA is continuing to work with residents on housing solutions, Pillot said.
Until there is a firm commitment to extend the deadline, O’Scanlon recommends those families plan for the possibility they will have to leave the temporary units and contact his office should they need any additional assistance.
“We’ll be doubling our efforts to do what we can,” he said.
Lenore McGee, a former Fort Monmouth resident, said she would support the governor’s request given what it meant for her during that difficult time.
“They made it possible for my life to move forward,” she said. McGee’s Highlands’ residence was severely damaged by the October 2012 storm. McGee found herself having to relocate a number of times. She lived in a fort apartment from Dec. 21, 2012 through Oct. 1, 2013.
“I will never, ever feel anything but complete gratitude for what I was given for that time period,” she said.