The Assembly & Senate Environment Committees on Monday held a joint hearing to discuss measures related to rebuilding and planning issues in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, including one bill sponsored by Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos, Jr. to assist homeowners in building stronger, smarter, more storm-resistant homes.
“Sandy was a wake-up call for many residents, underscoring the fact that climate change, development and other factors have rendered the current construction and layout of many homes impractical,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “This bill would help provide public financing for homeowners to renovate or build structures that are far more flood and hurricane resistant.”
Currently, a municipality may undertake the financing of the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements made by property owners, upon application to and approval by the Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs. By ordinance, the municipality may provide for a “clean energy special assessment” to be imposed on those properties when the property owner has requested the assessment in exchange for receiving assistance with the initial financing.
However, the only types of projects presently eligible for this treatment are the installation of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. Under the bill (A-3898) discussed today, water conservation projects, flood resistant construction projects, hurricane resistant construction projects, residential storm shelter projects, and safe room projects would also be eligible for a special assessment.
“From basement apartments in Hoboken to bayside homes in Mantoloking, this financing would help build stronger, more storm-resistant structures to help withstand the type of devastation we witnessed after Sandy. I don’t know anyone that has the financing and fortitude to continuously rebuild in the face of increasingly destructive storms. This would finance a strategic, long-term, smart rebuilding approach.”
Presently, municipalities may finance eligible projects by issuing bonds itself by applying to a county improvement authority that issues bonds. Although the use of private financing is not explicitly prohibited under current law, the bill would clarify that municipalities may also use private funds for project financing.
Finally, this bill would also allow qualified private non-profit entities to establish programs to finance the purchase and installation of eligible projects. Upon application to and approval by the Division of Local Government Services, non-profit entities would be able to contract with municipalities that have also gained approval to administer lending agreements for those municipalities.
The non-profit entity could then serve to administer the program for the municipality using funding from the municipality, county improvement authorities, private entities, or its own funding. As in programs administered by the municipality itself, the non-profit entity would also be repaid through a clean energy and storm resistance special assessment.