The Star-Ledger‘s new analysis of the distribution of relief funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy has found that almost one third of the federal money provided to New Jersey went to relatively unaffected areas. This is the latest in a string of reports by the state’s biggest newspaper suggesting Governor Chris Christie misappropriated Sandy funds.
According to the paper, $47.6 million,meant to build new affordable housing projects for those displaced by the hurricane went to projects in Essex and Middlesex counties–the inland counties home to Newark and New Brunswick, respectively. Essex County received 16.1% of the total money, while Middlesex received 13.7%. Meanwhile, shore areas in Ocean County received 7.7% in federal funds. Ocean County is home to the iconic post-Sandy image of Seaside Heights’ signature roller coaster floating in the sea by the ruined boardwalk.
Anthony Marchetta, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, told The Star-Ledger that the distribution of funds made sense and was not based on any political affiliations that would cause the government to give some mayors more money than others, despite the lack of obvious damage. Instead, the state agency sought to provide money to “shovel-ready” jobs already designed and ready to go to provide the fastest new housing for residents. Sometimes, he explained, this would mean building in areas like New Brunswick and moving residents north and away from the side. “Based on what I know,” he told the paper, “I think we did a pretty good job.”
Marchetta added that many of the communities receiving funds were not only areas without any particular favor to the Governor, but some were actively hostile. “Jersey City probably got more money and more projects than any other community, and clearly they were not fans of this administration,” he noted. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is currently suing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for back taxes and has a famously dicey relationship with Governor Christie. His name appeared in the now-infamous BridgeGate emails as an example of how much the administration did not like Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: “His name comes right after Mayor Fulop.”
Despite the reasoning behind the distribution, critics note that several deeply affected areas are being unfairly ignored for rebuilding. A year ago, The Star-Ledger explored Cumberland County–the western shore of the state that had been almost entirely destroyed by the hurricane. Cumberland County was the poorest in the state before the hurricane and continues to be so; it did not make the list of counties receiving significant federal funding.
The Christie administration has been criticized many times for potentially misusing Hurricane Sandy relief funds. CNN reported earlier this year that the federal government was auditing Christie’s use of funds related to the “Stronger Than the Storm” tourism campaign that prominently featured Christie during his reelection effort. It was later revealed that almost $5 million went to building an apartment complex in New Brunswick–an inland town that suffered almost no damage from the hurricane. Despite the millions poured into housing projects across the state, Christie asked the federal government this month to extend FEMA’s temporary housing program to benefit the estimated 80 families still living in trailers provided by the government.