State-funded buyouts of homes in flood-prone neighborhoods ravaged by Hurricane Sandy is a possibility, Gov. Christie said at a press conference in Sea Bright this week.
However, when it comes to a final decision, it’s one he hopes residents will make.
Christie was joined Thursday afternoon by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan to discuss the allocation of $1.8 billion that will be used to fund Community Development Block grants, or CDBGs. Though that money will be focused on rebuilding homes and small businesses, future HUD allocations could be used for residential buyouts.
It’s not something he’d like to see, Christie said, but if a community finds that it’s the best option for its future, it will have to be considered.
“I want to make sure that it’s known that people have time, away from the emotion of this, to make a cool and calm decision as a community as to whether they want to sell out or whether they want to rebuild,” he said. “And we’ll make those decisions then.”
Residential buybacks would likely be handled through the state’s already existing Blue Acres program, which is used to buy properties in flood-prone areas and convert them to open space. The long under-funded program could see a serious injection of cash should demand for residential property buyouts grow.
Already, Christie said towns like Union Beach in Monmouth County and Sayerville in Middlesex County, among others, have expressed some interest in the possibility.
Donovan said neighborhood buyouts are sometimes the best option for areas that are likely to see a recurrence of serious flood damage. Programs like these only work, he said, when entire affected areas are bought out. A house here or there being bought out when others in the same neighborhood remain means spending both now and later, when that next disaster comes along, he said.
Christie said he agreed, but even though a buyout might represent the best option for some neighborhoods, or at least most cost-effective moving forward, it’s up to the residents of the respective towns, ultimately, to say yes.
As Christie’s administration develops plans with HUD on how best to distribute disaster relief aid, neighborhood buyouts will be considered. But, the appropriate amount of time and consideration must be given to a drastic decision that will displace families. In all, roughly $16 billion of the more than $50 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package passed by Congress in January will be used to fund HUD projects.
Following initial funding allocations, about $11 billion remains.
“It’s certainly not something where I’m going to make the decision to condemn certain areas of this state and tell people they cannot rebuild there,” Christie said. “I’m very uncomfortable with using that authority. We have it we need it, but I don’t think in this circumstance it’s the right thing to do.
“I think it’s much more appropriate to let the community come to some sort of consensus, and if they do, then I’d certainly be willing to sit with the secretary and discuss the possibility of using some of this money (to fund buyouts).”
About this column: News and essential information about Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey.