| | |

N.J. officials open public comment period on $228 million spending plan for Hurricane Ida recovery funding

File photo from Sept. 2, 2021. The bridge over the D&R Canal that connects Washington Road to River Road in Rocky Hill is flooded. Photo by Khürt Williams.

Nearly a year after Hurricane Ida caused flash floods, the destruction of homes and businesses, and the loss of lives in the Princeton region and other parts of New Jersey, officials announced that public comment is now being accepted regarding how the state proposes to spend $228 million in federal disaster recovery funds.

Two public hearings will be held on the issue. Princeton area residents who want to attend the hearings in person will have to head to Newark or Manville, two of the communities hit hardest by the storm, to voice their opinions on the state’s plans for the money. Residents can also submit comments online or via email or mail.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs announced Thursday afternoon that the 30-day comment period is now open for people to provide public comment on the state’s Hurricane Ida Recovery Action Plan, which details how officials propose to spend $228,346,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds to help households and communities recover from Hurricane Ida. The public comment period will run through September 16.

Officials said the spending plan was developed in consultation with residents, county and municipal officials, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders in New Jersey, as well as with input the state agency received from residents who completed the Hurricane Ida Registration Survey.

According to officials, the Department of Community Affairs will review and consider all comments received during the public comment period and incorporate responses to each comment into the action plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for review and approval.

“The Hurricane Ida Action Plan being released today for public comment is part of my administration’s Ida Recovery Strategy, which builds on investments made earlier this year in residential property buyouts and home elevations to better protect families and communities from severe storms,” said Gov. Phil Murphy in a written statement. “Considerable thought went into the action p, particularly on ways to promote resiliency and ensure equitable access to recovery assistance. We encourage people to review the Action Plan and we look forward to hearing what they have to say about the plan.” 

State officials propose to allocate $152 million to fund housing programs that help homeowners restore their storm-damaged homes; to subsidize rental housing costs for low-income rental families impacted by Hurricane Ida; to provide zero-interest forgivable loans to owners of rental properties that require rehabilitation as a result of storm damage; to subsidize the development of affordable housing in lower flood risk areas; and to buy out residential properties located in flood-prone areas. An additional $1 million is proposed to provide supportive services such as housing counseling and legal aid to renters and homeowners affected by Hurricane Ida. State officials also propose to allocate $58 million to infrastructure programs that help communities become more resilient during natural disasters, protect publicly funded recovery investments in communities, and fund the non-federal cost share for state and local facilities that are eligible under FEMA’s public assistance program. State officials also propose to allocate $6 million to programs that develop a statewide housing mitigation strategy tool to assess the housing stock in disaster-impacted and at-risk areas and build on the existing efforts of “Resilient NJ,” a climate resilience planning, guidance, and technical assistance program set up following Superstorm Sandy to support local and regional climate resilience planning.

“We recognize that, for some areas, recovery from the catastrophic flooding and tornadoes caused by Hurricane Ida will take years. We also understand that $228 million is not nearly enough to address all the storm damage,” said Lt. Governor and DCA Commissioner Sheila Oliver in a written statement. “Our goal in developing the action plan was to address the highest-level needs in vulnerable communities with an eye to mitigation and resiliency. Unfortunately, these severe storms keep happening with more frequency and we must prepare and protect ourselves in this new reality.”

Federal guidelines require that at least 80 percent of the funds must be spent in counties most impacted by Hurricane Ida, which includes Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties. The remaining 20 percent of funds can be used in other affected counties, including Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Morris, and Warren. Under the guidelines, at least 70 percent of the funding must go toward projects that directly benefit low- and moderate-income residents or investments in infrastructure that serve a majority of these residents.

The proposed Hurricane Ida Action Plan can be viewed online on the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs website.

Public hearings on the action plan will be held:

-Thursday, Sept. 8, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the auditorium at Manville High School, which is located at 1100 Brooks Boulevard, Manville, NJ 08835

-Monday, Sep. 12, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the second floor of the campus center ballroom at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is located at 150 Bleeker Street, Newark, NJ 07102.

Residents of the state can also submit their comments through the DCA website, by email to DisasterRecoveryandMitigation@dca.nj.gov, or by mail to the attention of Constituent Services, Division of Disaster Recovery and Mitigation, NJ Department of Community Affairs, 101 South Broad Street, P.O. Box 823, Trenton, NJ 08625-0823. All comments must be received on or before 5 p.m. on Sept. 16 to be considered.