NJ’s Poor Overlooked In Superstorm Sandy Recovery, Many Still Waiting One Year Later

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October 31, 2013 ‐ By Ann Brown
A Staten Islane vigil for the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Getty Images

A Staten Island vigil for the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Getty Images

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Superstorm Sandy. Hard to believe because some of the devastated areas still haven’t recovered. Superstorm Sandy left billions of dollars of damage in its wake up the East Coast. Today, there’s a $26-million ad campaign declaring New Jersey “stronger than the storm.” And on many occasions during the recovery, Gov. Chris Christie and federal officials, including President Barack Obama, have toured the state’s ocean-side tourist attractions and communities with single-family homes. “But beneath the state’s seemingly happy story of storm recovery lies what a group of fair-housing and civil rights advocates say is a series of ugly but important truths,” reports The Root.

“Sandy shattered lives all over the state, up and down the income ladder,” says Mike McNeil, who is chairman of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference Housing Committee. “The people hit — and I mean hit hard and still hurting — don’t all own homes and businesses at the shore. But they aren’t getting much help.”

According to an analysis released last week by a New Jersey nonprofit, the Fair Share Housing Center, a disproportionate share of disaster-relief funds have been funneled to the state’s moderate- and upper-income households and homeowners. Renters and low- to moderate-income families — in the state, who are mostly black or Latino — haven’t experienced anything similar.

“I think we can say without question that officials in the states affected by Sandy did a lot better job getting people out of harm’s way,” says Kevin Walsh, a lawyer with the Fair Share Housing Center. “But I think in the recovery, the subsequent trauma, the disregard for the needs of so many poor and working families, and how many of those people happen to be black or Latino, is certainly similar to Katrina — disturbingly similar.”

There have been complaints, of course. In April a group of nonprofit organizations — the Latino Action Network, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP and the Fair Share Housing Center — filed an official discrimination (fair housing) complaint against the Christie administration. The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A second complaint followed this summer from the Latino Action Network, and in October it formally lodged its concerns with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

There have even been lawsuits. In September the Fair Share Housing Center also filed a suit to force the administration to share what it believes should be additional public information about the people who have applied for, received and been denied storm-recovery aid.

The Housing and Community Development Network’s own data found that about 47 percent of those affected by Sandy were renters — a disproportionate share of whom are black or Latino. However, New Jersey officials initially submitted much different information to the federal government in the state’s initially request for storm-victim aid. For one thing, state officials used a method that counted a storm-damaged 100-unit apartment complex as just one or two addresses, instead of a place where hundreds of people may have lived before Sandy. So the government missed potentially hundreds of  mostly poor people–leaving them literally in the cold when it came to recovery funding and housing.

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