Four years after Superstorm Sandy, thousands of New Jersey residents still have not finished rebuilding. Some of them told their stories to an Assembly committee.
Penny Ryan-Sesta says her house in Little Egg Harbor Township was destroyed and she’s still not back home. She says a state-approved contractor in the RREM program took her money but did not rebuild the home.
“Being a victim of contractor fraud has elevated my fears, crushed my confidence, and further delayed our rebuilding project. I’m here to ask please don’t forget about us. Help us and the other thousands of families out there,” she said.
Doug Quinn says the site of his Sandy-damaged home in Toms River is now an empty lot.
He says the state blocked him from the RREM rebuilding program because it lost documentation about his address and he had to go to Senator Bob Menendez to get his grant restored.
“What about the people that don’t know you can call a senator? What about the people that are elderly? What about the people that have young children? What about the people that are just too wiped out from losing everything they own and living like a refugee for four years that just don’t have it in them to fight this kind of bureaucracy?” he asked.
Julie Suarez says she rebuilt her Little Egg Harbor home with the help of a RREM grant but got a letter two years later demanding she repay the state $50,000. She says her four years of efforts to maintain her family’s stability is taking an emotional toll.
“I have fought tooth and nail to get my family back home and keep us whole and keep our community together. It has been a challenge and then I open this letter. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to help me,” said Suarez.
Adam Gordon with the Fair Share Housing Network says about 5,000 families who originally applied for RREM grants to rebuild their Sandy damaged homes got to the point where they gave up.
“That is what happens when these programs don’t work and people are being foreclosed upon. We need to focus partly on this group of people and make sure if there’s any way with these remaining resources that people can be made whole and get back in these communities,” he said.
Staci Berger with the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey urges the legislature to approve a bill that would put a moratorium on foreclosures of Sandy-damaged homes.
“It is unbelievable to me that the federal government or the state government would spend a lot of money and all of these good people’s time and energy and then allow a bank to repossess that house,” she said.
Assembly Regulatory Oversight committee chairman Reed Gusciora says legislation passed by the Assembly and awaiting action in the state Senate would deal with many of the victims’ issues by ensuring project deadline fairness and establishing a foreclosure and mortgage relief program.