More than two years after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New York and New Jersey shore, many shore dwellers are still struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives. And some government programs intended to help with that process are still bogged down in bureaucratic detail, according to press reports.
One federally-backed New Jersey program, the "Stronger NJ Business Loan Program," is supposed to provide loans to help storm-damaged small businesses to get back on their feet. But the South Jersey Courier-Post reports that restaurant owner Tim McLoone, though approved for the credit, is still waiting for the money to flow (see: "Businesses still waiting on Sandy rebuilding loans," by Russ Zimmer). "Quite honestly, we can't go much further," McLoone told the paper. "If we don't get this solved soon, we're going to have to stop." And McLoone's case is not unique — far from it, according to the Courier-Post story. "Not one of the businesses approved for the low-interest Stronger NJ construction loans have received a dime," the paper reports.
Sticky Federal rules are part of the reason for the lag in loan disbursement. Said regional Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official Holly Leicht: "It's not a perfect system. It's not easy to get this money out the door quickly."
And it's not just business: many homeowners are struggling with similar long delays. Some are eligible for federal aid, but are hampered by a requirement to provide a "substantial damage" letter — documentation that state or local authorities can be slow to supply, according to a report from NJSpotlight (see: "Elusive Substantial Damage Letter a Stumbling Block for Some Sandy Survivors," by Scott Gurian).
"Of the nearly 9,000 New Jersey residents who've received preliminary approval so far through the state's largest grant program, fewer than 300 have gotten funding and completed construction on their homes," NJSpotlight reports. "Among the multitude of reasons why Sandy aid has taken so long, for some storm victims, obtaining this elusive document from their towns was part of the problem. Looking back, critics say there's plenty of blame to spread around, from municipal officials uncertain of their duties to the state for not clarifying grant requirements from the outset to the feds for failing to mandate training for the local floodplain managers responsible for issuing these letters. In some cases, it appears that attempts by bureaucrats to control the process and manage the flow of applications actually made things more confusing and left homeowners twisting in the wind."
Meanwhile, some homeowners whose houses were damaged enough that the remaining value in the house is less than the amount they owe on the mortgage have been able to negotiate short sales of the homes, only to find that they now owe taxes on the part of the mortgage that has been forgiven by the lender. But fortunately for those victims, the government has acted to remove that tax, reports the Somerville Courier News (see: "Sandy victims to benefit from federal tax break," by Susan Loyer). "Legislation that cleared the Senate before it closed for the year... forgives taxes on the difference between what homeowners sold their Sandy-damaged properties for and what they owed on their mortgages if the sale is completed by Dec. 31," the paper reports.