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Christie, HUD discuss Sandy relief (NorthJersey.com, NJ)

(3/22/2014 1:21 AM, Herb Jackson)

Governor Christie held an unannounced meeting Friday with the Obama administration’s point person on Superstorm Sandy relief, a week after that official questioned the state’s management of a $1.8 billion grant.

Christie’s public schedule did not include the afternoon meeting with Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the governor would not say afterward what happened.

A spokesman for Donovan said in an emailed statement that the two discussed the state’s ongoing rebuilding efforts after Sandy.

"They had a productive meeting about what New Jersey is doing to enhance its programs so that all of its residents receive information and benefits in a timely and efficient manner," spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said. "HUD will continue working with New York, New York City and New Jersey to expedite the process of helping families and small businesses rebuild their homes and communities."

Donovan controls a new $1.5 billion block grant for Sandy recovery that New Jersey is seeking. He said at a hearing last week that his office was also finishing its second review of the state’s handling of $1.8 billion awarded in February 2013.

That grant included two housing programs that were allocated $925 million and managed by a private contractor, Hammerman & Gainer Inc., or HGI, which the state ended up firing. The Fair Share Housing Center said public records requests found that 80 percent of applicants who were denied grants through a major housing program were approved on appeal.

The center is pressing the state to review all applications to see if others were denied improperly. So far, the state has extended the deadline for appeals to March 31.

At a hearing on March 13, Sen. Bob Menendez questioned Donovan and relayed much of the housing center’s criticism of the program. Donovan told Menendez that he would ensure the program is managed properly.

"We have identified enough concerns with the work of the contractor and the oversight of the state that we have worked with them, and they have given us assurance that as part of the second [grant], they will take additional steps to reach families that may have been left out of eligibility," Donovan said.