New Jersey agreed Friday to provide more aid to low-income homeowners and renters still displaced by Superstorm Sandy, direct more aid to the hardest-hit counties and re-examine every rejected application to the state's main storm recovery grant program.

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A group of civil rights and housing advocates filed a complaint earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over how New Jersey was using its Sandy relief funds.

The two sides settled the case Friday. Under the settlement, the state agreed to add $215 million to build replacement homes and to give priority to projects in Ocean, Monmouth and Atlantic counties. That comes in addition to $379 million already allocated under the program.

The deal also provides $15 million for renters still displaced by the storm, an additional $10 million to the $50 million set aside for people with special needs and guarantees better communication with non-English speakers. It also provides $10 million to help people in manufactured homes damaged by Sandy either repair or replace them.

"This settlement will help Spanish-speaking New Jerseyans and others who are still out of their homes get information that wasn't provided to them before," said Frank Argote-Freyre, president of the Latino Action Network, one of the three plaintiff groups. "We have one more chance to get this right, and I am hopeful that this agreement will help the state do a better job."

The other plaintiffs were the Fair Share Housing Center and the state NAACP. The complaint criticized the way the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs handled the first round of federal Sandy aid.

The agreement calls for the state to reevaluate every application to its reconstruction, rehabilitation, elevation and mitigation program after the plaintiffs documented that 80 percent of those rejected were wrongly turned away.

It applies to the roughly $800 million in remaining first round of funding, and the more than $2 billion in second and projected third-round funding.

Gov. Chris Christie's office said the agreement "continues the administration's commitment to helping low-income and minority families get recovery program assistance, and addresses the concerns put forward by the advocates."

 

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