Less than 200 Ida survivors in NJ got continued rental assistance from FEMA

Yeah, you heard that right. 

A decade ago, over 10,000 Sandy survivors whose homes were damaged received temporary continued rental assistance from FEMA under the opens in a new windowIndividuals and Households Programopens PDF file (IHP). That’s 18 months of assistance on top of the first one-time housing aid payment they got right after the storm. But with Ida, that seems to have changed. We heard from dozens of members who got the initial one-time payment, but then never received the application for continued assistance. 

This didn’t make any sense to us. Sandy members (like Krista from Belmar) provided documentation proving they got the application for this aid when they were supposed to. And our Ida member Hector from Highland Park helped us prove that FEMA funding caps were not the issue. So, why aren’t Ida families receiving this assistance? And why did it seem like NJOP members were the only ones trying to solve this issue – or who had even noticed it at all?  

Luckily, NJOP Sandy and Ida members stick together to figure %#$& like this out – and coming off of the nationwide, multi-state organizing we just did opens in a new windowfor the Sandy anniversary, we have a network of talented badasses working alongside us too. 

Texas Appleseed and the opens in a new windowNational Low Income Housing Coalition accessed data from the IHP, confirming that Ida families across New Jersey were not offered the opportunity to receive monthly rental assistance like they should have been. WNYC’s Karen Yi has been following this story, working with the information our members Maryann, Hector, Eric, and Stefanie shared, to help us crack this case (check out her pieces in Gothamist and opens in a new windowWNYC to get the full scoop). Finally, with the help of Senator Menendez, Congressman Pallone, Congressman Malinowski, and Congresswoman Watson-Coleman, we found out from FEMA exactly how many Ida folks got continued rental assistance.

Y’all… it was only 172. Only 172 people in the entire state of NJ received continued rental assistance for Hurricane Ida. That is unacceptable.  

To put into perspective just how bad that is, 80,000 people applied for the one-time rental assistance support, and only 10,000 people were approved to receive it. Then out of those 10,000 people, less than 200 got continued help… a.k.a., only 1.5% of the people who should have been offered the chance apply. Compare that to Sandy, where 10,100 survivors got 18 months of continued assistance. 

Thousands of Ida survivors are now struggling without aid that we know they should have gotten. And we know firsthand that our communities really need it – folks are struggling to pay rent and their mortgage, facing the risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or struggling with homelessness after the storm. .

opens in a new windowNJOP member Maryann Morris was at risk of foreclosure when she moved back into her still-damaged house. She couldn’t afford to pay $26,000 extra per year for her rental, so she returned to a home that’s still in repair. Today, she still doesn’t have a kitchen and can’t cook for her 8-year-old kid. Rental assistance could have prevented Maryann from being backed into a corner. 

Another member, Stephanie Hosgood, was forced into a similar situation:  “We have nowhere else to go. We felt like we really just didn’t even have a choice. We didn’t have hot water or heat yet, but we came back.”

So, what now? 

  • FEMA needs to re-open these cases and make it possible for our communities to access continued rental assistance, including back pay for the long 14 months we went without it. We’re sending a public letter urging FEMA to do exactly that, and we have electeds like Senator Menendez backing us up. 
  • Finally, there should be an easier way for people to apply for rental assistance. Right now, people are sitting on the phone with FEMA for hours – there has to be an easier way. We suggest a dedicated hotline or case managers. 

You can play a role too. If you’re an Ida OR a Sandy survivor and want to place a letter to the editor in your local paper asking for Ida folks to get the rental assistance (and back pay) they need, reach out to me at opens in a new windowmeghan@newjerseyop.orgcreate new email so we can make that happen. We have a template you can use and we can help you find a local paper to place the story.

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