Advocates: Little help for renters at Jersey Shore

Posted: June 15, 2013

Advocates for renters and lower-income people displaced by Sandy say they are glad the Jersey Shore is open for business.

But don't forget the bulk of the people who live there, they say.

In an extraordinarily tight rental market, one whose noose was pulled tighter by summer rental rates that kicked in last month, the advocates say not enough is being done to help those people.

Many of the renters work in that same Shore tourism industry being touted by everyone from Gov. Christie to President Obama and Harlem Globetrotter Handles Franklin.

"For homeowners, they say we have to make sure this all gets set up right away," said Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill. "But if you are a renter, there's not really a [recovery] center for you. 'We'll get to you eventually.' "

As though to prove the point, the Department of Community Affairs - whose commissioner, Richard Constable, held media conference calls to detail programs to distribute federal aid to homeowners - took more than 24 hours to respond to a request for information on programs aimed at renters.

The answer? "There is no additional information on the assistance programs for renters at this time," spokesperson Tammori Petty said.

Gordon said the goal of stabilizing blue-collar Shore communities was in jeopardy if the state did not also find a way to keep displaced and priced-out renters in those year-round neighborhoods.

"They're giving out $10,000 grants for homeowners to stay in their communities," Gordon said. "There's nothing like that for renters. The landlords are raising rents because of a shortage of rental housing after Sandy. More people are becoming displaced."

Staci Berger, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey in Newark, said an incentive program for landlords that subsidizes rents for two years had not been popular.

"There is resistance on the part of landlords because the rentals are for two years," Berger said. "Once the subsidy goes away, the burden is on the landlord to evict" renters who cannot afford the market-rate rent. "The demand is so strong; the rents are so strong. The incentive is not enough."

Berger and Gordon complained there was not enough outreach aimed at the people most affected by the storm. Physical centers set up in the nine affected counties are for homeowners, not renters, to get information and apply for federal aid.

"It's frustrating to see the governor say the Shore is back," Berger said. "In New York, you see ads for people to call and get help.

"It's totally appropriate to promote economic industry, but it's not the only thing. It's not enough that it's open. What about people still living in a motel, doubling and tripling up with families? They are not getting the same level of attention."

As far as homeowners looking for a share of the $1.8 billion federal disaster relief, Petti said to date, 5,575 people had applied for the $10,000 grants, which require them to stay in their homes or communities for three years. More than 6,000 have applied for grants of up to $150,000 to rebuild and renovate their houses. There are 11,657 applications.

The website ( www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/sandyrecovery) indicates the state hopes to help 6,300 renters through various programs, some aimed at helping landlords rebuild, others at providing assistance. The homeowner assistance goal is 18,000.

Renters, Berger said, are in a bind. "The vacancy rate in Monmouth and Ocean Counties is less than 1 percent," she said. In Atlantic County, rentals are also scarce, especially because winter rentals have yielded to vacation weeks.

Displaced homeowners are now entering the rental market after being unable to rebuild. "It's difficult to gauge," she said. "People are moving around. Former homeowners are now in the rental market. We now have a huge demand and no supply. People are going further and further away from where they live."


Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453, arosenberg@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @amysrosenberg.

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