The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Latino Action Network and Coalition Partners Reach Agreement with Christie Administration to Set Aside Additional Sandy Relief Funds for Working Poor Families

Latino Action Network and Coalition Partners Reach Agreement with Christie Administration to Set Aside Additional Sandy Relief Funds for Working Poor Families

For Immediate Release: May 30, 2014
Frank Argote-Freyre, President – 908-670-0552
Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President – 973-418-7012

The Latino Action Network announced today that it has settled a fair housing complaint that it jointly filed with the NJ NAACP and Fair Share Housing Center challenging the State of New Jersey’s distribution of federal disaster recovery funds. The agreement reached with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of New Jersey requires significant changes to the use of federal funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery. The agreement is available on the Latino Action Network’s website here : LAN Hurricane Sandy Agreement

“This settlement will help Spanish-speaking New Jerseyans and others who are still out of their homes get information that wasn’t provided to them before, said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network.  “Spanish-speaking staff will be available at every recovery center and homeowners and renters will be given the chance to live in or closer to their homes that were damaged. We have one more chance to get this right, and I am hopeful that this agreement will help the state do a better job.” 

The agreement requires changes to the recovery effort which address the needs of Latinos, African-American and working poor families impacted by Sandy that have not been addressed to date. In response to erroneous information on the State’s website that had incorrect deadlines, the State is required to make its Sandy website fully bilingual, and provide equal access for people whose primary language is not English from the first day of applications for new programs. In response to findings that Latinos and African-Americans were rejected from the State’s main homeowner rebuilding program, the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation [RREM] program, significantly more often than white non-Latino applicants, the State will reexamine all applications to make sure that applicants were not unfairly rejected. In response to a lower share of resources to renters displaced by Sandy, who are disproportionately Latino and African-American, the State will dedicate at least $240 million in additional immediate help and longer-term rebuilding funds to renters impacted by Sandy.

“Working poor families impacted by Sandy should have the same rights as everyone else to rebuild their homes and lives,” said Christian Estevez, Executive Vice-President of the Latino Action Network. “This agreement will help make the Sandy recovery more fair and inclusive.”

Key terms of the agreement include:

  • Provides a minimum of $215 million in addition to $379 million previously allocated to build replacement homes for people impacted by Sandy, and for the first time sets firm targets for prioritizing the most impacted communities in New Jersey, especially the three most impacted counties, Ocean, Monmouth, and Atlantic, to ensure that people are not forced to leave their communities permanently as a result of the storm;
  • Establishes a $15 million pool for immediate help for renters who are still displaced from Sandy, which can be used for up to two years while replacement homes are being built;
  • Requires a re-review of the applications of everyone rejected from the RREM program, responding to information that nearly 80 percent of rejected applicants whose applications were reviewed were incorrectly rejected, with rejection rates 2.5x higher for African-Americans and 1.5x higher for Latinos;
  •  Requires the State to provide equal access to non-English speakers for all programs funded with HUD’s disaster recovery funds and to build a bilingual website for all programs;
  • Provides that as new programs open, there must be equal access for applicants whose primary language is not English from day one;
  • Requires compliance with Section 3 requirements, which provide a preference for local contractors to do federally funded work and access the job opportunities over out of state contractors;
  • Provides an additional $10 million in addition to $50 million previously allocated to help people with special needs impacted by Sandy;
  • Provides enhanced outreach to low- and moderate-income communities that have been underserved by the recovery to date, including enhanced partnerships with community groups and housing counseling to help people who are facing financial distress in recovering from Sandy, and integrates outreach to Spanish and Portuguese speaking communities into this outreach process;
  • Provides a minimum of $10 million to help people in manufactured homes recover from Sandy and rebuild or replace their homes, including the heavily Latino portions of Moonachie impacted by Sandy;
  • Allows applicants to get funds without a substantial damage letter previously required by the state, which has been a particular problem for Latinos in the Ironbound section of Newark and elsewhere, and allows both renters and owners to show concrete proof of damage through other means such as home inspections if FEMA calculated damage incorrectly;  
  • Requires the State to comply with the Open Public Records Requests related to Sandy in a timely fashion and to provide more public information to make sure Sandy funds are being distributed fairly.
The Latino Action Network and other complainants were represented by Kevin D. Walsh and Adam M. Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center based in Cherry Hill, NJ and Michael Allen of the civil rights firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, based in Washington, D.C.