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HUD Secretary to Congress:  Changes Coming to Address NJ’s Sandy Problems

Posted by Laura Denker on March 12th 2014

Washington, DC - At a hearing today of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan pledged to require the State of New Jersey to address numerous problems with federally-funded disaster recovery programs by reopening the lists for housing funding programs. New Jersey has experienced many missteps in its recovery efforts, including mismanagement by state contractors and the failure of the state to share important information in Spanish, such as the deadline for applying for funds to rebuild. The HUD Secretary’s commitment to correct these problems comes after months of the State refusing to address these issues, including refusing to respond to a complaint on Spanish language access filed by the Latino Action Network in October.

In response to questions from US Senator Robert Menendez about HGI’s work, Secretary Donovan said (at 38:30 on the web video) that HUD has “identified enough concerns with the work of the contractor and the oversight of the state, that we have worked with them and they have given us assurance that as part of the second tranche, they will take additional steps to reach families that may have been left out of eligibility, of being able to get funding, using that second tranche. We will be following up with you in the next few weeks to give you details of exactly what steps those will be, depending on the specifics of the report, but I have that assurance from the state and you can rely on my oversight to make sure we follow through on that.” He also said regarding civil rights issues, including language access (at 59:00), that “We do have a formal complaint and we are investigating and I expect that investigation to be completed in the next few weeks… . As I said earlier, between our monitoring review and the review we’ve been doing on the Fair Housing complaint, we do have concerns and the state has assured us through the second action plan that they will take steps to reach homeowners and businesses that may have been left out because of language access issues or steps in the contract.”

“We are very encouraged by Secretary Donovan’s assurance that he will demand more accountability and transparency in the Sandy aid process,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network, the organization that filed a complaint under federal law that requested the state remedy its mistakes. “The Christie Administration has yet to respond to our five-month old complaint about errors on the Spanish language website. Those adversely impacted by the state’s incompetence need to be given an opportunity to repair their homes and lives.”

“We thank Senator Menendez and Secretary Donovan for their commitment to addressing problems that the State has refused to correct for way too long,” said Adam M. Gordon, a Staff Attorney with Fair Share Housing Center who testified at the same hearing as Secretary Donovan. “We look forward to seeing more details on the changes in the next few weeks and ask the federal government to ensure that they are part of a broader reform of the many flaws in New Jersey’s Sandy recovery.”

The testimony can be viewed at this link.