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Sandy victims must pay rent at Monmouth

Mar. 14, 2014 - 10:26AM   |  
Beginning on May 1, government officials are going to start collecting rent from the 57 families displaced by Superstorm Sandy who are staying at Fort Monmouth.
Beginning on May 1, government officials are going to start collecting rent from the 57 families displaced by Superstorm Sandy who are staying at Fort Monmouth. (Bob Bielk / The Asbury Park Press)
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OCEANPORT, N.J. — The good news was that superstorm Sandy victims could stay at Fort Monmouth through the summer — but the bad news is, it will cost them.

Beginning on May 1, government officials are going to start collecting rent from the 57 families who are staying at the fort.

“The government has dragged this process out from the beginning, and now they want to charge us for the privilege of staying at their shelter,” said Pamela Vazquez, a Union Beach resident who is staying in a three-bedroom unit. “That’s just crazy. It’s not right at all.”

The monthly cost of staying in the former officers’ quarters would not be a token amount. For example, the federal government would charge Sandy victims $1,083 for one-bedroom units and $1,865 for three-bedroom units, the 2014 fair-market rates for Monmouth County, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency typically stops providing living assistance 18 months after a natural disaster, said Michael Runestad, a spokesman for the agency.

FEMA recently announced that the 57 displaced families living at the shuttered fort can remain there through Aug. 31, rather than an earlier April 30 deadline.

“They can still stay there; they just have to pay rent,” Runestad said. The rent money would go into the government’s treasury, he said.

While there is precedent for victims of other disasters being charged rent for temporary housing, Congress after Hurricanes Katrina or Rita did not hold up recovery funding for weeks, as it did with Sandy, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said he plans to push the Obama administration for a reasonable and compassionate resolution to the issue.

“I find it profoundly inadequate and insulting,” said Smith of charging rent to those at the fort. “I respectfully appeal to President Obama himself to step in and work with us to provide real help.”

Pallone said the Christie administration has been slow to distribute the money to those who need it once the funds became available.

“In light of the vast mismanagement of Sandy relief funds, it is indefensible for the storm victims temporarily residing at Fort Monmouth to be charged rent,” Pallone said. “These people are still unable to get back in their homes through no fault of their own. They shouldn’t be penalized as a result of the slow pace of recovery.”

Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie, could not be reached for comment.

Vazquez, 50, is waiting for word on her state Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation grant application for her Union Beach home, which Sandy destroyed.

If she begins to reconstruct her home before hearing on her RREM application, Vazquez said she has been told she no longer would qualify for the assistance.

Vazquez has tried to find temporary housing outside the fort, but she said her options have been limited because her family has a dog and because few landlords have been willing to offer her a fair price for renting a unit month-to-month, rather than for a year’s lease.

“We’re no closer today to getting back in our home than on the day after the storm,” Vazquez said. “This is a sad state of affairs.”

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