More than two years after Superstorm Sandy slammed the Garden State, municipalities in hard hit areas, especially in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, are trying to deal with thousands of homes that were badly damaged by the hurricane, and have since been left abandoned.     

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The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is addressing the problem through a program designed to knock down the abandoned structures. The Unsafe Structures Demolition Program has $25 million in federal funds available for towns to use to destroy structures that are deemed unsafe by the DCA.

"This is to combat blight and to prevent these uninhabitable structures from destroying the community," said DCA Deputy Commissioner Melissa Orsen.

In many cases, the homes have been abandoned and left in a dilapidated state because the owners may not have homeowners insurance or they may still be fighting with their insurance companies to make repairs. In other cases, property owners may have simply run out of money.

"DCA is conferring with officials in communities where there was extensive damage from Sandy to compile a list of abandoned homes," Orsen said.

To date, DCA has completed over 1,600 inspections of structures towns have identified as unsafe and environmental reviews are underway. Orsen said the next step is to get consent from the homeowners for the property to be destroyed.

Orsen said towns all over New Jersey are thankful to have a partner to move this process forward.

"Once the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance ran out, they were concerned how they would proceed with these uninhabitable homes and this is really to combat blight and to help these communities recover from the devastation," Orsen said.

The goal, according to Orsen, is to focus on clusters of abandoned properties so that a bigger impact can be made on the entire community.

"You really lift up a community when you get rid of the blight. It impacts the homeowner to the left, to the right and then the developments all over," Orsen said.