Conceivably, a person who suffered no personal losses during Superstorm Sandy could move to a town well inland with up to $50,000 courtesy of the federal government under the state's Sandy Homebuyer Assistance Program.
While those with secondary homes damaged by the storm remain locked out of any assistance at all, news of the homebuyer program led Stop FEMA Now founder, Toms River resident George Kasimos, to speak out recently in opposition to what he sees as relief funds being directed the wrong way.
State officials, however, disagree.
The Sandy Homebuyer Assistance Program is a means-tested program which provides up to $50,000 for those the state of New Jersey considers low-to-moderate income earners to buy homes in the nine counties most affected by Sandy.
But the eligibility factor largely stops there. Applicants must have a credit score of 620 or above and be eligible for a mortgage from a traditional bank – and they must stay in their home for five years to have the loan forgiven, and effectively turned into a grant – but there is no obligation for the applicant to have suffered losses during the storm or to move into an area that was directly affected by Sandy. The home must simply be located within the nine counties, and initial applicants must currently live in one of those counties. Later, state officials say, the program will be expanded to those who live elsewhere.
While there are no expressed citizenship requirements, state officials
say the documentation required for the program would effectively limit participation to U.S. citizens.
"I'm angry, it doesn't make sense," said Kasimos. "We're helping people buy homes when we're not helping current owners – primary and secondary – retain their homes."
"It's as if we're helping current homeowners move out. It's unfathomable that our government can even come up with a program like this and our elected officials aren't saying anything about it."
The program was designed "with a focus on providing stability to those communities most impacted by the storm," said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, the state agency which is overseeing the distribution of funding.
program is geared towards creating homeowners in the nine counties most
impacted by the storm, first by offering the
program to households currently living in those counties and then
opening the doors of those counties to anyone else who would like to
participate," said Ryan.
There are additional practical reasons for offering the program, officials have said.
The program is being aimed at helping residents of storm-affected counties buy primary homes at a time when there are fewer rental properties available – and those that are commanding higher monthly rents.
"It also aims to stimulate the market for new and restored homes in the nine most-impacted counties," said DCA Commissioner Richard E. Constable, III.
The state has dedicated $25 million in federal funds to the program, DCA officials said.
The program will assist 500 families with home purchases over the next two years, said Anthony Marchetta, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Residents of Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union counties can apply for assistance through Oct. 25, at which time the program will be open to all New Jersey residents.