On Superstorm Sandy anniversary, New Jersey offers new help to homeowners

UNION BEACH, New Jersey (WABC) -- It's been six years since Superstorm Sandy roared ashore, wreaking havoc on our area and causing billions of dollars in damages.

More than 100 deaths were blamed on the massive storm, and some areas are still recovering all these years later.

One of the hardest hit areas was Union Beach in New Jersey, where on Monday Governor Phil Murphy and senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez met with victims there to talk about the ongoing recovery.

PHOTOS: The wrath of Superstorm Sandy in pictures

The lawmakers announced major changes to housing programs, including additional funding and changes to recoupment policy that will help Sandy-impacted homeowners.

The changes to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program will enable participants who have not yet finished construction on storm-damaged property to receive more money to complete projects.

Those who owe money to the program will also have an opportunity to demonstrate that repayment of the amount owed will create an extreme financial hardship.

"With these programs, our objective is to find a path forward for the homeowners who have not finished rebuilding and who find themselves stuck because they don't have the financial means to move ahead," Murphy said. "We want to work with people who are struggling financially to determine what they can realistically contribute, and we want to get them across the finish line so they can return home and get some much-overdue normalcy in their lives."

For the approximately 1,200 homeowners in the RREM Program and the LMI Program who have not completed construction, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is proposing a zero-interest forgivable loan to fully fund unmet needs above and beyond the maximum $150,000 grant.

The proposed loan would be uncapped, would require no monthly payments, and would be calculated based on the remaining work needed to finish the project, taking into account other funding sources available to homeowners such as flood insurance and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
The loan could only be used for eligible costs under the RREM or LMI Program, and homeowners who accept a loan would be required to live in the home for 15 years following construction completion.

If the homeowner were to sell the home prior to meeting the residency requirement, a portion of the loan would be due upon sale.

Additionally, in instances where homeowners with completed projects are required to repay excess grant funds, they will now be eligible to apply to DCA for an extreme financial hardship allowance.

If the hardship is granted, DCA will use a uniform test to evaluate the homeowner's ability to pay and may provide forgiveness of some or all the debt that remains to be paid. This includes homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure, the heirs of program participants who have died, and homeowners who have declared bankruptcy.

For more information about DCA's Sandy recovery programs, go to ReNewJerseyStronger.org/.

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