Organizing and Persistence Pays Off in N.J. for Hurricane Sandy Victims

Isaiah J. Poole

It took two years of agitation and protest, but finally this week homeowners in New Jersey still seeking relief in the wake of the devastation of superstorm Sandy could claim an important victory, as Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill giving homeowners still recovering from the disaster protection from foreclosure.

Christie’s signing of a bill that he had vetoed a version of last year was the culmination of work done by the People’s Action affiliate New Jersey Organizing Project as well as other groups.

“We’ve spent two long years trying to get Sandy families protection from foreclosures and so today is a good day for us,” said Joe Mangino, Superstorm Sandy survivor and New Jersey Organizing Project co-founder. “Even though the governor doesn’t seem happy about signing the bill, we are happy it got signed. We know this will help many families be able to afford to stay in their homes. We are grateful to the Sandy survivors who have kept up the fight, and to our legislators who have not forgotten families like mine.”

Indeed, Christie was not happy about the bill. In his signing statement, he grumbled that “most of it is a transparent, useless political exercise by candidates for re-election falsely pandering to victimized voters.” Language in the signing statement seemed to give state administrators a green light to half-heartedly implement the law’s provisions.

Nonetheless, the mandate of the bill is clear. The measure would offer foreclosure protection for up to three years to qualified Sandy homeowners who have been approved for assistance through the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) as well as a program for low- and moderate-income homeowners. People who received rental assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would also be eligible.

An estimated 40,000 primary homeowners had their homes severely or substantially damaged during superstorm Sandy, which hit the state on October 29, 2012. Families hit by the storm found themselves struggling with both federal flood insurance programs and the state’s own recovery programs. New Jersey Organizing Project has been pressing Christie and the legislature throughout the crisis, through both lobbying and protest. At one of these protests in October, according to one news report, Christie was forced to temporarily leave the lectern at a speech where he was touting his Sandy recovery efforts.

But it took that level of in-your-face persistence to move the governor to begrudgingly do the right thing for Sandy-affected homeowners at a time when New Jersey is experiencing the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Now that foreclosure relief is the law, the challenge now is to hold the state accountable for delivering the assistance the law requires.

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