Singleton, Quijano, Caputo & Taliaferro Bill to Protect Sandy Victims Still Rebuilding from Costly Bureaucratic Setbacks Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Annette Quijano, Ralph Caputo and Adam Taliaferro to ensure the fairness of project deadlines, enhance transparency, and create foreclosure protections for Superstorm Sandy victims was advanced Monday by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. 

"Thousands of homeowners due to receive funding from grant programs set up to help them have complained of extraordinary delays," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "It is shameful that almost four years after the storm, resident are still dealing with these types of setbacks. This helps ensure that residents who are still rebuilding are not hurt by bureaucratic stumbling blocks."

"It is incredibly unfair that residents who have been through so much already have to delay their recovery process even further because of circumstances beyond their control," said Quijano (D-Union). "We need to put provisions in place that will help protect residents affected by Sandy who are still trying to rebuild, but keep getting tangled up in governmental red-tape." 

Under the bill (A-333), the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would have to extend the completion deadline for projects funded through the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) or Low to Moderate Income Homeowners Rebuilding (LMI) grant, for applicants who can demonstrate the delay was the fault of their builder or due to delays by the DCA in approving the builder doing the project. If an application for aid under the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program (TBRA), LMI, or RREM program is denied, the DCA would have to provide the applicant with an explanation for the denial, and an explanation for ways to remedy the application.

The bill would also offer temporary protections against foreclosure to certain Sandy victims. Under the bill, homeowners who are not in foreclosure, and who sustained at least $8,000 worth of damage, or over one foot of water on the first floor as a result of the storm, would be authorized to apply to the DCA for a certificate of eligibility for mortgage forbearance. 

The forbearance would establish a time period, ending November 1, 2018, during which the homeowner would not be responsible for principal or interest payments on the mortgage. 

The term of the mortgage would automatically extend, under the same terms, for the number of months the mortgage is in forbearance. Homeowners who are already in foreclosure litigation, and sustained at least $8,000 worth of damage, or over one foot of water on the first floor as a result of the storm, as determined by the RREM and LMI program procedures, would be authorized to apply to the court for a stay of proceedings, also to end November 1, 2018. 

"It is inexcusable that the same governmental snags that have kept Sandy victims from rebuilding now threaten their homes," said Caputo (D-Essex). "These provisions can help these residents stay afloat while they wait for the powers that be to get it right once and for all."

"The idea of Sandy victims facing foreclosure because of problems they did not create is asinine," said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "This legislation will help address the economic crisis that many families continue to experience as a result of Superstorm Sandy." 

Any homeowner who is awarded a forbearance or a stay of foreclosure proceedings would continue to be responsible for property taxes, insurance, and general property maintenance. 

Under the bill, the DCA would have to publicly report the reason for each application denial, wait-list placement, and withdrawal from the RREM, TBRA, and LMI programs since the start of the recovery effort, and to report the reasons for new denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals on a quarterly basis through 2018. Concerning withdrawn applications, the public reporting requirements would apply only after DCA has conducted a reasonable effort to contact the withdrawn applicant.

The bill would also require DCA to publicly report where all funding associated with application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals has instead been allocated. The bill would apply this requirement to all application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals since the start of the recovery effort, and would require ongoing reporting on a quarterly basis through 2018. 

The bill would require DCA to maintain a RREM appeals process for at least six months following the bill's effective date. The appeals process would have to be open to any applicant to the RREM program who submitted an initial application by the deadline of August 1, 2013, regardless of the reason the applicant had been denied or removed from the application process.


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