NJ considering expansion of home buy back program after deadly storm Ida


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Liz Sawyer called Manville, New Jersey home for more than two decades, when Ida became the latest hurricane to send floodwaters crashing into her home. For her and her family – she hopes – will be the last time.


“Let’s get out of here,” Sawyer said during an interview this month, the day President Joe Biden visited the hurricane-hit city. “This is our third flood. I’ve had enough. I’m done. I want to get out of here.”

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Ida’s torrential downpour dumped nearly a foot of rain in a few hours, turning roads into waterways and killing 30 people in the state, New Jersey’s top environmental regulator said, New Jersey’s top environmental regulator said. said this week the state’s flood property repurchase program “definitely needs to be expanded as part of the state’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change”.

Sawyer, a school bus driver, could be a beneficiary if New Jersey officials go ahead with the expansion of the program, known as Blue Acres. But the program isn’t a slam dunk for residents, who have to file applications and weigh whether a purchase makes financial sense for them.

Sawyer said she’s already looking at the process, and it’s tough: There’s paperwork, a lot of waiting, and a fair amount of uncertainty. He also worries that he may have to sell his house in the market if the state’s proposal is not enough.

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“We have little or no retirement,” she said. “This house is our future. Sadly.”

The extension of the program, however, depends on whether more federal funding is allocated, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Sean LaTourette said during a remote news conference. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy also said this month that an expansion of the program should be on the table, but he held off on drawing up a plan.

Convincing towns to participate can also be a challenge. Support from local governments is one of the criteria a state considers when deciding whether to offer purchases.

“For a community to come to terms with its risks and effectively say to ourselves that we have to uproot ourselves and find a new community … it’s a huge cultural undertaking,” he said.

According to the National Weather Service, there have been eight major flood events in the city from 2005 to 2011, in Little Falls, west of Patterson.

Mayor James Damiano said about 150 homes in the city have been elevated or purchased through the state and FEMA since 2010. He said he favors upgrades over buyouts for a number of reasons, including that homeowners who opt for upgrades can expect a significant reduction in their flood insurance costs while buying into the city over time in tax revenue. incurs cost.

New Jersey’s Blue Acres Program Started statewide in 2013 and spent $200 million on purchases as of February, the latest data available. However, the lion’s share of that funding came from the federal government. The program has offered offers on nearly 1,100 properties in 20 cities across the state, including Manville. About 700 houses have been demolished.

Manville sits along the Raritan and Millstone rivers and is often hit by storms. The remnants of Tropical Storm Floyd brought devastating floods in 1998, and the city suffered severe flooding after Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. A lower section known as the Lost Valley was hit hard by Ida. And where Biden had visited.

Mark Nipps, a retired volunteer firefighter and Manville resident, 25, pointed to a recently vacant lot where homes once caught fire through the program.

“You hate to see your city disappear,” he said. “I don’t know if that part of town will be completely gone in my lifetime or if people just take a chance (and stay).”

Lu DeFazio, a contractor by trade and resident with Sawyer in the Lost Valley, said he was not leaving. This is home, he said.

Over the past three decades, federal and local governments have invested more than $5 billion in buying thousands of vulnerable properties across the country, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. in 2019.

New Jersey is one of the top states for federal money spent on flood purchases of residential properties.

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