Philanthropy’s Role in Sandy Recovery Must Continue

November 18, 2014

learning and leading

On the anniversary of Super Storm Sandy last month, the Foundation Center released a report that was jointly commissioned by the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and my colleagues at Philanthropy New York.

Giving in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy provides us with the first comprehensive look at how private philanthropy responded. Beyond reporting the numbers, my hope is that the report will also be used as a guide for foundations, corporations and other donors outside of our state as to the nonprofits on the ground with whom local funders have great confidence.

As this report makes clear, private and corporate philanthropy was exceptionally responsive after Superstorm Sandy came crashing into New Jersey’s coastal communities, flooding towns as far as 30 miles from the ocean, and upending the lives of thousands of our neighbors, schools, small businesses and communities.

Notably,  we just marked the second anniversary; and the need is still great with many outstanding nonprofits at the forefront of the rebuilding and future resiliency efforts. Philanthropy’s role is not finished.

Housing remains the primary challenge. For renters and homeowners alike the seemingly endless obstacles — changing rules, mounting paperwork, disappearing contractors and misinformation — to rebuilding and returning home are monumental.

“One way to measure need,” according to Staci Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, “is to look at the state’s primary government housing rebuilding program RREM (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation). The most recent The State of New Jersey’s “Non-substantial Amendment to the Action Plan report found at a minimum, 10,000 Sandy-impacted households still need homes created, rebuilt or repaired.” From the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group we learn that “for every person we meet in the RREM system, there is another one who is not registered.”

Dina Long, Mayor of Sea Bright, still remains out of her home nearly two years after the storm.

“Having lost my home and still being displaced almost two years after the storm, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what many people are dealing with in terms of the Sandy legacy,” Long told NJ Spotlight recently. “It’s frustrating because for folks like me and thousands of other people, Sandy is still an everyday thing for us. For most of the country and New Jersey, everybody’s moved on, they think Sandy’s over, it’s all better. I think they don’t realize that it’s still going on today.”

Talking with Donna Blaze, CEO of the Affordable Housing Alliance (AHA) you also learn that 45 percent of those seeking assistance are, sadly, paying rent and a mortgage payment, with the ratios in Ocean County even higher. Blaze also sees rents increasing as victims with more means are able to pay more while waiting for their homes to be repaired. This leaves those with less means, struggling to make mortgage payments on houses that are not yet habitable plus rent with fewer and fewer options.

To assist with some of these issues a number of innovative and effective programs are getting underway and showing results. In July of this year, the AHA opened a storefront housing recovery center in Monmouth County and launched a traveling center on wheels in order to reach into Ocean and Atlantic counties.

New Jersey Community Capital, one of New Jersey’s leading statewide CDFIs, created a Gap Funding Initiative (GFI). The program offers grants of up to $20,000 to help homeowners cover the gap beyond what RREM provides toward the costs of home repairs they face as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

The clock continues to tick in a number of ways. Of deepest concern to many is the end of the State’s contract with Catholic Charities, which has been managing the bulk of the case management. Originally set to end October 31, an extension was approved for a maximum of just six months. It is unclear, however, what will happen to the hundreds of active cases as well as the hundreds more who have not yet been registered in the system after the six-month period.

Throughout the state, central to so many of the personal recovery stories have been the Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs). Working through volunteer committees focused on case management, emotional support, and advocacy issues (to name just a few), the LTRGs are the lynchpin on which so much of the victims’ recovery has hinged.

With LTRGs in Atlantic, Bergen, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean Gloucester and Salem counties, as well as a LTRG dedicated solely to Atlantic City – they are on the day-to-day frontlines. Sadly only the Ocean County LTRG has enough funding in place to carry it forward far into next year, and only then until June 2015.  One worries how the vitally important work — the local safety net for so many — will continue.

And then there are those working to help our communities, municipalities and counties rebuild and plan for the future … the inevitable next disaster.

New Jersey Future and Sustainable Jersey are standouts for their programs embedding planning professionals directly into some of our hardest hit communities. New Jersey Future has placed Local Recovery Planning Managers in six Sandy-impacted communities where they are working on Strategic Recovery Planning Reports, community vulnerability assessments, securing resources and implementing plans.  Sustainable Jersey launched the NJ Resiliency Network whereby Resiliency Managers work with local officials to identify needs and technical assistance resources for the towns so that they may become more resilient to future extremes.

Throughout the past two years, New Jersey has seen our exceptional nonprofit community take on challenges they never imagined supported by private philanthropy. They continue to inspire and serve, bringing innovative ideas that can and will prove to be the solutions that our neighbors and communities both need and will build upon.