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Legislation Would Permit Municipalities to Utilize a Portion of Local Affordable Housing Funds

With families across New Jersey still struggling from the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Irene, Assembly members Wayne P. DeAngelo, Dan Benson and Connie Wagner on Thursday proposed legislation to help low and moderate income home owners and businesses offset the costs for property damage caused by the ensuant flooding.

The measure would create the Municipal Natural Disaster Relief Grant Program to allow local governments to provide aid to homeowners and small businesses for repairs necessary to occupy the buildings if the costs are not sufficiently covered by FEMA assistance.

“While the storms may have passed, the damage left behind has had a permanent effect on thousands of New Jersey families. FEMA assistance is extremely helpful, but, in many cases, it simply isn’t enough to get a home or small business fully operational again. Many working families do not have the financial reDests to make the necessary repairs to their homes in this current economy,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This local grant program would help towns provide that extra assistance to homeowners so they can get fully back up on their feet again.”

Under the Municipal Natural Disaster Relief Grant Program, municipalities would be permitted to utilize up to 15 percent of their revenues generated by affordable housing development fees and deposited in such municipal trust funds. Grants of up to $10,000 for local residential property owners or up to $15,000 for non-residential local property owners would be provided for damages caused by a flood, hurricane or other natural disaster for which there was a declared state of emergency.

“The economy has already taken a severe toll on many working and middle class families and if they suffered storm damage not covered by insurance, this can put them in serious financial trouble,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “With our affordable housing program in a state of flux right now, these idle funds can be put to good use helping residents cover costly repairs.”

“This is about maximizing our reDests to the fullest to help those in need,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee brought a double whammy on our state that many are still trying to recover from. These grants can go a long way in helping many families get back on their feet.”

The grants would need to be utilized for the purchase of “systems equipment such as plumbing, heating, electrical, boilers, kitchen appliances, or other mechanical facilities or installation or repair needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the property.

The municipality would need to pass a local ordinance to great the local program which would need to be approved by the State. Applications for the program would be accepted up to six months after the state approval is granted.

The legislation was drafted in response to concerns raised by Monroe Township local officials about the financial struggle many residents are still facing following the devastating flooding from Hurricane Irene last month. Nearly 200 homes in Monroe were significantly damaged by flooding associated with the hurricane.

“Many residents are still unable to return to their homes one month after the hurricane and severe flooding because repairs are just too costly and the damage too great,” said DeAngelo. “Unfortunately, there is still a large financial gap between the critical repair costs and the aid received from FEMA or charitable Dests. This program could hopefully bridge that gap for the families in Monroe and other parts of New Jersey still struggling with the impact of this disaster.”

Similar legislation was passed after Hurricane Floyd swept through New Jersey in 1999 leaving parts of the state under several feet of water.

The measure will be introduced at the next quorum call of the General Assembly.