EATONTOWN, N.J. – Nearly two years after Hurricane Sandy, FEMA officials marked the conclusion of their housing mission in New Jersey.
On September 11, 2014, FEMA returned the last of the Fort Monmouth properties that have housed displaced survivors of Hurricane Sandy since December of 2012. All of the 115 families who occupied the apartments and duplexes on the main post and in the Megill Commons area in Tinton Falls had either returned to their own homes or found a suitable housing alternative.
FEMA, the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and long term recovery groups worked diligently to provide one-on-one assistance to help individuals and families who lived in FEMA direct housing to move back home or find temporary housing.
Additionally, DCA staff actively worked with those families who have received rebuilding funds through the DCA’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program to ensure that they were moving through the program as efficiently as possible. The goal was to make sure everyone still living in FEMA direct housing were able to either return home or had temporary housing in place before the August 31, 2014, deadline that FEMA had set on closing out its direct housing program in New Jersey.
Under the Stafford Act approved by Congress, FEMA is authorized to provide direct housing to disaster survivors for up to 18 months following the date of a declared disaster. During that period, households participating in the housing program pay no rent or other fees.
The 18-month period expired on April 30, 2014. At the request of Governor Christie, the federal government granted a four-month extension of the housing program.
Starting May 1, 2014, the households who remained in FEMA-provided units were required to begin paying rent at the fair market rate for the region as determined by the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency. Those households who could not afford to do so were able to submit documentation of assets and expenses in order to qualify for a reduced rental payment.
In addition to those families housed at Fort Monmouth, FEMA also provided 89 mobile housing units for eligible applicants in New Jersey. With the exception of one mobile home that was placed on private property, the units were installed in 10 commercial mobile home parks in the state’s hardest-hit counties All of the residents of the mobile housing units have also either returned to their own homes or found suitable alternate accommodations.
Each household faced individual challenges that often required creative problem-solving. FEMA caseworkers met with each on a regular basis for assistance in developing a suitable long term housing plan. State agencies collaborated with FEMA as well as community and faith-based charities to help secure housing for the families. FEMA, DCA, long term recovery groups, the NJ Department of Human Services, Catholic Charities, the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance and the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency regularly held meetings for months to discuss the individual cases of people who were living in FEMA direct housing, to pool resources to triage cases and to identify temporary housing solutions. On a number of occasions, these individuals and families were driven to look at rental opportunities and meet with landlords to see if the housing unit met their needs.
“It’s very important to have good, strong, compassionate people,” to assist survivors experiencing some of the most trying periods of their lives, noted FEMA Individual Assistance Branch Director Annette Monet.
In some cases, age, illness, financial concerns or family size complicated the task of finding appropriate housing.
With extraordinary efforts and advocacy by the housing team on behalf of survivors, however, all the families were eventually able to secure alternative housing or return to their own homes.
“It took a bunch of very experienced people working together who were very knowledgeable about how things should work to find solutions for all of our families,” noted Monet. “They put all of their ideas together and worked as a team. That’s what you need when it gets down to helping the families help themselves.”
The leasing of the units at the former military base marked an unusual chapter in the history of FEMA’s housing program.
Mayor Gerald Tarantolo of Eatontown was among those who championed the idea of housing survivors displaced by the storm at the former army base. Tarantolo contacted the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority to inquire as to whether that would be feasible. The state Economic Development Authority oversees FMERA.
With FMERA support, the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management began discussions with the Army and FEMA, which would fund the lease, and an agreement was formulated.
After four weeks of renovations FEMA contracted with the Army Corps of Engineers, move-ins at two buildings on the main post and in larger units in the Megill Commons area of the fort began on December 21, 2012.
On September 16, 2014, the Chief of Staff for the Sandy Recovery Office Chris Hartnett and Carl Kahn of the FEMA acquisitions team presented Lt. Col. John Occhipinti, site manager for Fort Monmouth, with a certificate of appreciation for all his efforts on behalf of Sandy survivors housed at the fort.
In addition to the Direct Housing Mission, FEMA also provided $189 million in Rental Assistance payments to eligible applicants who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy. FEMA also provided 19,321 households with funds for repairs totaling $172.7 million.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, FEMA provided more than 5,500 families with short-term accommodations in 435 hotels and motels around the state through its Transitional Sheltering Assistance program. The program provided 253,425 room nights for displaced survivors at a cost of $34 million. The TSA program ended on April 30, 2013.
The Rental Assistance program ended April 30, 2014.
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