TRENTON – Sens. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, and Bob Gordon (D-38), Fair Lawn, introduced legislation on Thursday creating a program to help low- and moderate-income families and business owners recoup property losses they suffered from flooding following Hurricane Irene and subsequent tropical storms.
The Municipal Natural Disaster Relief Grant Program will allow local governments to provide aid to homeowners and small businesses for repairs necessary to occupy the buildings if the costs are not adequately covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds.
“Even though it has been a couple of months since Hurricane Irene hit the Garden State, families are still feeling the effects of the storm including severe damage to their homes and businesses,” Greenstein said in a statement. “While FEMA funds can offer financial relief for victims of the hurricanes, it is often not enough to complete repairs for many of the hardest-hit New Jerseyans’ property. This local grant program will provide much needed funds to make these homes and businesses operational again.”
The legislation would permit municipalities to use up to 15 percent of the revenues generated by affordable housing development fees to provide grants of up to $10,000 to homeowners and up to $15,000 for business owners, who are without insurance and for whom the repayment of a low-interest federal or state loan would constitute extreme hardship.
“With a sluggish economy and high unemployment rates, New Jersey residents were struggling prior to Hurricane Irene. Now residents are unsure how they will afford to rebuild and repair their homes,” Gordon said. “By offering $10,000 grants to homeowners and $15,000 grants to businesses, we can provide hope to these residents, who might otherwise be unable to get back into their homes or businesses.”
The funds could be used to support the repair, purchase, and installation of systems equipment by property owners living in disaster areas. Under the bill, “systems equipment” means plumbing, heating, electrical, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigerating, and fire prevention equipment, and elevators, dumbwaiters, escalators, boilers, pressure vessels, kitchen appliances and other mechanical facilities or installations. Financial assistance could also be used to pay for repairs necessary for the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the property.
A municipality wishing to participate would have to establish, by resolution, a Municipal Natural Disaster Relief Grant Program. The municipality’s program would need approval from the state Department of Community Affairs. Property owners in the affected area would have six full months after state approval of a municipality’s Municipal Natural Disaster Grant Program to file an application for grant funding with the municipality. Under the bill, funds granted by a municipality could not be used for any damage or loss which is met by any other source.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.