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Singleton Proposes Legislation to Correct Lingering Obstacles Preventing Sandy Victims from Returning Home

As NJ Marks Three-Year Anniversary of Storm, Bill Would Address Issues Preventing Thousands from Rebuilding & Also Help Prevent Foreclosures

With thousands of homeowners still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey three years ago, Assemblyman Troy Singleton is proposing legislation to eliminate many of the road blocks they have faced by ensuring the fairness of project deadlines, enhancing transparency, and establishing foreclosure protections for victims.

“Marking the third anniversary of the storm yesterday, the governor acknowledged mistakes were made and corrected, however many of the inefficiencies and road blocks that have prevented thousands from rebuilding have not been addressed,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “This bill aims to address those concerns by ensuring fairness, increasing transparency and boosting assistance to those struggling to hold onto their properties while they rebuild.”

Singleton noted that of the approximately 8,300 homeowners in the state’s main rebuilding program (RREM), only a quarter – 1,959 – have completed rebuilding three years after the storm hit, according to state figures.

His legislation would require the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to extend the deadline for project completion for any applicant who is awarded a grant through the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program or the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) program if they demonstrate that a delay has resulted from certain faults of the builder or delays by DCA in approving the builder associated with the project.

Upon any decision to deny an application for aid under the RREM, LMI or TBRA (Tenant-Based Rental Assistance) programs, the bill would require DCA to provide the applicant with an explanation for the denial and an explanation for ways to remedy the application. The bill gives DCA the responsibility to publicly report the reason for each application denial, wait-list placement, and withdrawal from the programs since the beginning of the recovery effort and to report the reasons for new denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals on a quarterly basis through 2018.

The bill also requires DCA to publicly report on where all funding associated with application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals has instead been allocated. The bill applies this requirement to all application denials, wait-list placements, and withdrawals since the beginning of the recovery effort, and requires ongoing reporting on a quarterly basis through the end of 2018.

The bill requires DCA to maintain an RREM appeals process for at least six months following the bill’s effective date. The appeals process shall be open to any applicant to the RREM program who submitted an initial application by the deadline of August 1, 2013, regardless of the reason the applicant had been denied or removed from the application process.

“This bill also addresses another important component – the economic crisis that many families continue to experience as a result of Superstorm Sandy,” said Singleton. “For a number of reasons, many families are struggling to avoid foreclosure while they are simultaneously tackling the obstacles that have delayed rebuilding. This bill will offer temporary mortgage protections to ease the burden on Sandy victims while they continue to rebuild.”

Under the bill, homeowners who are not in foreclosure, and who sustained at least $8,000 worth of damage, or over one foot of water on the first floor as a result of the storm, will be authorized to apply to DCA for a certificate of eligibility for mortgage forbearance. The forbearance would establish a time period, ending November 1, 2018, during which the homeowner would not be responsible for mortgage payments. The term of the mortgage would automatically extend, under the same terms, for the number of months the mortgage is in forbearance.

Homeowners who are already in foreclosure litigation, and sustained at least $8,000 worth of damage, or over one foot of water on the first floor as a result of the storm, will be authorized to apply to the court for a stay of proceedings, which would also end November 1, 2018. Any homeowner who is awarded a forbearance or a stay of foreclosure proceedings will continue to be responsible for property taxes, insurance, and general property maintenance.

Singleton intends to formally introduce the legislation at the next Assembly quorum call on Nov. 9.