(TRENTON) - Assembly approved 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 Thursday by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs 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 have either been approved for assistance through the RREM or LMI program, or have received rental assistance from FEMA as a result of damage to their primary residence could apply to the DCA for a certificate of eligibility for mortgage forbearance.
The forbearance period would conclude when whichever of these scenarios happens first: a year after a certificate of occupancy for recovery and rebuilding program work has been issued; July 1, 2019; or regarding a property in foreclosure proceedings, 10 days after a sheriff's sale.
"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."
"It is maddening that almost four years after Sandy, there are people who still have not been made whole," said Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). "This is the least we can do for homeowners who trusted those in charge to make things right, and were severely disappointed."
"This is bureaucracy at its worse. These families deserve better than the delays and inconsistencies that have plagued the recovery process," said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This will help prevent any more impediments so these families can finally get back to normal."
"As if having your life disrupted by Mother Nature was not enough, these homeowners were failed by the very entities tasked with their recovery," Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). "These provisions can help cut the red-tape they've been dealing with and finally get them back on track."
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.
The bill was approved 63-4-8 by the Assembly in June.