A New Jersey assemblywoman is facing questions about her use of Habitat for Humanity money and volunteers to rebuild her Manasquan shore house destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender, whose district is centered in Union County, is a veteran Democrat in the state assembly. Her small bungalow on the shore is now an empty lot after Sandy, but plans obtained by NBC 4 New York show her replacement home will be three times the size of the old, with four bedrooms, an office, three and a half baths, and even a fireplace.
It's all to be built with Habitat for Humanity volunteers, along with a Habitat loan.
"It's ridiculous. There are so many people down here that have no help from FEMA since Sandy hit, it's ridiculous," said Carolyn Chevance, one of Stender's Manasquan neighbors.
Among the issues at stake for Stender: Habitat doesn't rebuild vacation homes, as this was listed on her financial disclosure form. Her primary home is her mother's house in her district in Scotch Plains.
Then there's the combined income of her husband, at over $50,000 and her legislative salary, at $49,000. Along with two smaller sources, it puts her at $99,000 or more.
Habitat's post-Sandy guidelines only allow income up to about $80,000.
NBC 4 New York went Friday to where Stender just started a new government job at the Union County Utility Authority at an additional $90,000 to her income, and was told Stender wasn't available for comment, despite her car being parked outside.
In a statement emailed last night, she wrote, "Like many others, our family suffered significant losses as a result of Hurricane Sandy. There are outstanding issues which are the subject of continued efforts to resolve."
It is not clear how the Manasquan property, and the plans, got through what Habitat says is a blind qualification process, as it is all confidential. But in a statement, Coastal Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Maureen Mulligan said replacement homes have to be "simple, decent and affordable."
As for her new income here, Mulligan says, "If circumstances change, they need to provide that information to us."
After taking with NBC 4 New York, Mulligan says she plans to bring this up to her board of directors. A spokesman for New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said the speaker "hopes to learn more about the situation."