FEMA: Housing Prospects for Sandy Victims Daunting, Not Dire
Though a recent state report paints a bleak picture, FEMA officials say the housing situation for residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy isn't as severe.
The numbers are dramatic. In theory.
According to a report from the state's Disaster Housing Task Force, a looming housing shortfall exists for thousands of residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Potentially, of course.
What the data collected in the report — comprised of current Hurricane Sandy data and data culled from historical disasters — doesn't factor in, however, is experience, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said. And though furture housing does remain an unknown for many residents, especially in Sandy-ravaged areas of Monmouth and Ocean counties, FEMA has yet to experience the presaged crush.
"We have not noticed big difficulties in (meeting) housing requirements," Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Vogel said during a recent conference call. "The state-led housing taskforce has done a great job in making sure they've got their needs identified.
"We have not run into difficulty."
The report, released Thursday, estimates that as many as 25,000 households may need assistance locating temporary housing solutions. Of that total, FEMA estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 won't actually pursue assistance — again, based on historic data — leaving about 12,500 households in need of disaster-related housing assistance.
The complete 40-page report can be viewed by clicking on the PDF at right.
In the more than a month since Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey directly, a rental stock of approximately 6,000 units has been identified. If that number is accurate and if the households in need of assistance is accurate then, according to the report, 6,500 households would be unable to immediately locate a place to live.
The report speculates a worst-case scenario, one Donna Weise, FEMA's housing grid supervisor, said doesn't account for what her organization has seen thus far in Sandy.
For one, she said, a significant portion of the people belonging to that estimated 6,500 households total are staying with friends and family while their homes are repaired or rebuilt. Though she was unable to provide an actual estimate of how many families were going that route instead of utilizing FEMA housing aid, Weise said the percentage is much higher than that of affected households along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
Data from that disaster was used to help generate figures the Disaster Housing Task Force's report.
Weise added that while thousands have applied for aid, many will also choose to remain in homes where damage from Sandy was minor, or at least tolerable for the time being.
Despite FEMA officials feeling of bit optimism when it comes to housing prospects for Sandy victims, steps are being taken to provide Direct Housing for those who need it.
Direct housing is used to provide a longer term solution than FEMA's transitional sheltering assistance, which includes stays in hotels or motels,and its temporary housing assistance phase, which provides rental assistance for those displaced from their apartments or homes.
In Monmouth County, FEMA is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to provide housing at Fort Monmouth, though it only plans on opening one building to residents at this time. The building in question includes 45 units, 15 three bedroom units and the rest one-bedroom, and should be move in ready in a couple of weeks, Vogel said.
Currently, about 155 applicants from Monmouth and Ocean qualify for Direct Housing at the Fort and Vogel did not rule out the possibility of opening more buildings to house residents. Weise, however, expressed some concern over relocating Ocean County residents to Monmouth County because of the distance. Other, more local direct housing programs are being pursued in Ocean County.
One solution is temporary trailer parks, which could be established in towns throughout the area.
In all, Weise said more than 240,000 New Jersey residents have applied for FEMA aid with roughly $250 million being distributed to an estimated 47,000 applicants so far. The remaining applications have been denied, withdrawn, or are pending, she said.
Weise encouraged residents to update their living status with FEMA as things progress. Some who registered for aid may no longer need it and others who were denied are welcome to reapply should they think their situation merits further review, she said.
Efforts are also being undertaken by other housing organizations to help determine the housing need and find a solution. Groups like the NeighborWorks America and Mississippi-based housing group Hope have toured towns impacted by Sandy and are working with local officials to develop housing plans.