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Settlement Reached in Sandy Civil Rights Case

Posted by Kevin Walsh on May 30th 2014

Agreement Requires Targeting Sandy Funds to Hardest Hit Communities, Addressing Language Barriers in Recovery Programs, and Helping Renters and Homeowners Left Out of Recovery to Date

Today, the Latino Action Network, NJ NAACP, and Fair Share Housing Center settled a fair housing complaint they filed in April 2013 with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against the State of New Jersey involving the state’s use of federal disaster recovery funds. The settlement agreement entered into by the parties, which is available here, requires the State to take numerous steps throughout the rest of federally-funded recovery from Hurricane Sandy that will increase resources available to lower-income renters still not back home after Sandy and target those resources to the hardest hit areas first; provide an opportunity for funding to people who may have been wrongly found ineligible; and provide information in Spanish and other languages so that people whose primary language is not English will be provided full access to all information needed to recover from the storm.

Latino Action Network President Frank Argote-Freyre said: “This settlement will help Spanish-speaking New Jerseyans and others who are still out of their homes get information that wasn’t provided to them before. Spanish-speaking staff will be available at every recovery center and homeowners and renters will be given the chance to live in or closer to their homes that were damaged. We have one more chance to get this right, and I am hopeful that this agreement will help the state do a better job.”

NJ NAACP President Richard Smith said: “The settlement is an important step forward. It is good to put this particular disagreement behind us so people impacted by Sandy get a fair shot at recovering. We identified several areas where the state and the civil rights community could find common ground on how to make the recovery work well for everyone. The NAACP looks forward to seeing this money reach the families, seniors, and people with disabilities on whose behalf we filed the complaint.”

The agreement applies to the roughly $800 million in remaining first tranche funding and the more than $2 billion in second and projected third tranche funding. The agreement:

  • Provides a minimum of $215 million in addition to $379 million previously allocated to build replacement homes for people impacted by Sandy, and for the first time sets firm targets for prioritizing the most impacted communities in New Jersey, especially the three most impacted counties, Ocean, Monmouth, and Atlantic;

  • Establishes a $15 million pool for immediate help for renters who are still displaced from Sandy, which can be used for up to two years while replacement homes are being built;

  • Requires a re-review of the applications of everyone rejected from the RREM program, responding to information that nearly 80 percent of rejected applicants whose applications were reviewed were incorrectly rejected, and requires that they get the same priority that they would have had if not incorrectly rejected, as part of a broader plan by the State to clear the RREM wait list;

  • Requires the State to provide equal access to non-English speakers for all programs funded with HUD’s disaster recovery funds and to build a bilingual website for all programs;

  • Requires compliance with Section 3 requirements, which provide a preference for local contractors to do federally funded work and access the job opportunities instead of out of state contractors;

  • Provides an additional $10 million in addition to $50 million previously allocated to help people with special needs impacted by Sandy;

  • Provides enhanced outreach to low- and moderate-income communities that have been underserved by the recovery to date, including enhanced partnerships with community groups and housing counseling to help people who are facing financial distress in recovering from Sandy;

  • Provides a minimum of $10 million to help people in manufactured homes recover from Sandy and rebuild or replace their homes;

  • Allows applicants to get funds without a substantial damage letter previously required by the state, and allows both renters and owners to show concrete proof of damage through other means such as home inspections if FEMA calculated damage incorrectly;

  • Requires the State to comply with the Open Public Records Requests related to Sandy in a timely fashion and to provide more public information to make sure Sandy funds are being distributed fairly.

The three complainants were represented by Kevin D. Walsh and Adam M. Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center based in Cherry Hill, NJ and Michael Allen of the civil rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, based in Washington, D.C.

The agreement goes into effect immediately.