NJ spending hundreds of millions of dollars buying out flood-prone homes
Superstorm Sandy slammed the Garden State more than three and a half years ago, but the program that was created to help flooded homeowners sell their properties and get a fresh start is still going strong.
Through the state Department of Environmental Protection's Blue Acres buyout program, the state is planning to spend $300 million in federal funds on buying 1,300 homes in flood-prone areas.
According to Fawn McGee, the program's director, money to buy 836 homes in eight counties has been secured since May 2013 when the program was launched.
“You know we’ve got a lot of areas that are repeatedly flooded and Sandy just broke the camel’s back,” she said.
The numbers so far:
— Offers made on 755 homes in 12 municipalities
— 581 families have accepted buyout offers
— 462 closings have been completed
— There have been 346 demolitions
McGee said in areas where homes have been knocked down, “they are starting to basically become an open-space flood storage, so when we get another flood those properties are the properties that are going to be able to absorb that additional flood water, and that will help to protect the rest of the neighborhood.”
McGee explained when homeowners apply to be part of the Blue Acres program, they supply photos and other proof of repetitive loss from flooding that they’ve had to deal with. When several people in a community indicate they are interested in leaving, Blue Acres officials will confer with local leaders to make sure everyone is on board.
“If it looks like a viable opportunity, we roll our sleeves up and get busy on our application process,” she said.
State officials must demonstrate cost-effective measures are being taken for each project in order to be able to get approval to use federal funds. Once that happens, a long process begins to gather appraisals and environmental reviews.
“Our job once we get the federal approval, is to give them as much money as we can so they can move on with their lives,” she said.
The agency to date has received $165 million from FEMA and $100 million from HUD.
She says ocal communities ultimately decide what will happen to the areas where properties are bought out and demolished, but no new building is allowed on the site, because federal rules mandate the area must remain open space.