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State Sued Over Refusal to Explain Why Families are Being Turned Down for Sandy Rebuilding Funds

Posted by Laura Denker on September 11th 2013

Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) today sued the State of New Jersey in the Law Division of New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer County for its failure to provide the most basic documents on why thousands of families have been denied assistance in rebuilding after Sandy. The action is based in the State’s failure to provide any documents for over six weeks in response to a July 31 Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for basic documents explaining the policies by which families are being told they are ineligible for Sandy rebuilding grants.

“What 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. “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.”

On July 31, Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for guidelines that 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. These three programs combined represent $850 million, or 46 percent of the federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds from the federal Sandy recovery package. FSHC also asked that the information be posted online for everyone seeking grants to access.

The State of New Jersey asked for an extension to respond to the requests and promised to provide the documents no later than September 5, 27 days after they were due under OPRA. The State did not provide any documents at that time. Instead, the State asked for more time, claiming now that it would provide the documents by September 20, or 51 days after the initial request. The complaint filed today asks for immediate disclosure of the documents.

The litigation comes in the midst of widely reported dissatisfaction with the process for applying for rebuilding grants and secrecy around reasons for denials and the process for getting funds. At a joint legislative committee hearing last month, homeowner Simone Dannecker of Union Beach stated, “The state has gotten us wrapped in so much paperwork, it consumes your life,” she said. “It really does. Not once have I spoken to the same person. You get passed along and passed along.”

“The Christie Administration promised unprecedented transparency around Sandy funding,” Gordon added. “That promise has been broken. Instead Sandy victims have experienced unprecedented bureaucracy and secrecy. That’s the wrong approach to a fair and effective recovery.”

The complaint and a copy of the original OPRA request is available online here.