Turned down for a Sandy rebuilding grant? Wondering why?
lawsuit filed this week in state Superior Court is seeking to compel
the state Department of Community Affairs – the agency that is
administering federal grant funding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy – to provide
answers on how it is doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in
rebuilding grant funding.
Though most of the state's grants have
eligibility criteria – some income-based, and all reserved for primary
homeowners only – the final selection process into how individual
recipients are selected has always remained unclear.
The suit, brought by the Fair Share Housing Center, was filed in response to a July 31
request under the state's Open Public Records Act for "basic documents explaining
the policies by which families are being told they are ineligible for
Sandy rebuilding grants," the group said in a statement.
request sought documentation that outlines guidelines which explain the
selection process for the two largest Sandy rebuilding
grants to individual homeowners, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation,
Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program and Resettlement Grant, and the
main Sandy rebuilding grant for landlords, the Fund for Rehabilitation
of Small Rental Properties.
The three programs represent a combined $850
million, or 46 percent of the federal Community Development Block
Grant-Disaster Recovery funds from the federal Sandy recovery
package. The request also asked that the information be posted online
for everyone seeking grants to access.
Government agencies are
required to produce the documentation sought in an OPRA request – or
deny the request – within seven days. However the state asked for an extension to respond to the group's requests and
promised to provide the documents no later than Sept. 5, 27 days
after they were due, the group said. The state eventually asked the
group for more time, promising the documents by Sept. 20.
The second delay prompted the filing of the suit.
is the big secret around why some of the most impacted victims of Sandy
are getting turned down for rebuilding money?," FSHC Staff Attorney
Adam Gordon said in a statement. "The documents that the Christie Administration is
using to evaluate who gets money and who does not should be public. No
more excuses, no more secrets."
State officials, in
response to questions from Patch over the past several months, have
provided the criteria for participating in one of the Sandy grant
programs – the Sandy Homebuyer Assistance Program – but did not provide a
reporter with details on how grant recipients are ultimately chosen.
Patch had not filed an OPRA request on the matter.
The suit seeks immediate disclosure of the documents, FSHC officials said.