The city has acquired 39 properties that were affected by hurricane Irene through its Northside Buyback Program, according to a report mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration provided to the city council.
$3.86 million was spent in acquiring the properties. That’s an average of less than $100,000 per property. Councilman Michael Jackson, who represents the 1st Ward where the properties are being acquired, said homeowners are being “shortchanged.”
“It’s nearly impossible for homeowners to relocate themselves by selling their homes for $90,000,” said Jackson. Part of the buyback programs includes a relocation program, said officials.
“They are getting fair market value or pre-flood value,” said Paul Miller of Morris Plains-based Tetra Tech. His firm was hired in September 2014 to manage the buyback program that was largely bungled by former mayor Jeffery Jones’ administration.
The city appraises each property before entering into negotiations with homeowners to purchase their homes. Some homeowners are choosing not to sell their properties, said economic development director Ruben Gomez. It’s a voluntary program, he said.
“It’s a flood plain area. The reasonable buyer is only going to pay so much given the condition of the area,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. “No one’s going to come in and buy a property other than through this process, government intervention.”
Gomez said the city identified 140 properties for acquisition. There are two simultaneous programs to acquire flood prone properties along the Passaic River.
22 properties were purchased using a Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grant the city received from the Passaic County government. 17 properties were acquired using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds the city received following Irene in 2011.
The city received almost $2.1 million in CDBG-DR grant and another $5.76 million in FEMA and state funds. Out of the $7.83 million, the city still has almost $4 million left. Both grants were extended several times as the city was slow to move ahead with acquisitions.
“It’s a large, large process,” said Miller. He said there’s a large number of approvals before a property can be acquired. There’s also appraisals and demolition once the property has been purchased.
16 other properties are slated for closing very soon, said Gomez.
The properties being acquired are located on streets like East Holsman Street, Bergen Street, Watson Street, and so forth. It’s not clear what the city plans to ultimately do once a significant number of acquisitions have been completed.
There have been talks of creating a park or a river walk for the Riverview neighborhood. The neighborhood is one of the city’s more challenging areas with drugs, gang violence, and other social problems.
Gomez said the buyback program will be completed in December 2017. He needs the council to approve another $30,000 to extend the consulting firm’s contract to March 2018. The city pays the consulting firm $125 per hour. He also needs the council to approve a $207,900 contract for Union City-based O.R. Colan Associates to serve as tenant relocation consultant for the buyback program.
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