2013-01-18 / Columnists

Eye On Rockaway

Sandy Victims Need More Than Promises
Commentary by Miriam Rosenberg

According to many residents, the city’s Rapid Repairs program is not very rapid. Currently work on only 4,216 of 12,555 homes in the program has been completed. Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the program just a little more than a week after Superstorm Sandy. The premise of Rapid Repairs is simple – the city would pay contractors to assess damaged homes and make them livable by restoring power, heat and hot water so that owners could stay in their homes and further repairs on their own.

Yet, there have been many problems with the new program. Local news media documented Breezy Point’s Debbie Egan-Chin and Far Rockaway’s Pansy Oliver-Dones problems with Rapid Repair.

Egan-Chin, a photographer for the Daily News, wrote in that paper’s January 13th issue about her experiences with Rapid Repairs. She retells the story of her and her family getting out of their home just as the ocean was coming up her block. They returned the next day to find that the storm destroyed the home. On November 13th she registered with the Rapid Repairs program. What followed was a series of phone calls before her home was assessed on November 19th. That was followed by several weeks of inaction and now the need for another assessment after the city experienced problems with the first assessor.

The family has gotten a new boiler and FEMA has allocated temporary assistance so that they could move into an apartment but she admitted in her article, “I’m right back where I started,” in regard to Rapid Repairs.

On January 3rd, NY1 reported on the problems that Oliver-Dones had with the program. She also received rental assistance from FEMA after Rapid Repairs was not so quick in providing assistance. Her home had been assessed and she was told that work on installing a new boiler would be done by Christmas, which it was not. The new boiler was delivered and sat uninstalled. Nearly a month after her registering with the program, and surprise, shortly after NY1 was at Oliver-Dones home, the installation was completed. Oliver-Dones says approximately 30 workmen came through her home before the job was finished.

Lost paperwork, second and third inspections, and long intervals of wait time between one visit from Rapid Repairs and the next, are stories that are coming not just from Rockaway but other hard hit areas in the city as well.

According to reports, in an effort to fix problems in the program, Rapid Repairs underwent a reorganization at the end of last month. That will only be good news if the rapid is put into Rapid Repairs.

Meanwhile, by the time you read this we will know if the House of Representatives voted to pass the $51 billion Sandy aid bill for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday. Reports are that House Speaker John Boehner has divided the bill into two. The first is for $17 billion that includes money for immediate needs for FEMA disaster aid and for the transit systems of the New York/New Jersey area. It’s the other $33 billion that in question. One allocation is for $13 billion to protect against future storms. Representative Gregory Meeks has said that money for the Army Corp of Engineers is in there for Rockaway and other coastal communities. The issue of jetties and seawalls for Rockaway could be addressed with that money. Yet, conservatives are railing that 1) money is not going to people but government to rebuild or that 2) they want to see plans “that address the real needs for Sandy.” They also want to see offsets for the spending.

Protecting against future Sandys is not only a real need, it would provide a peace of mind to residents who live in the seaside communities ravaged by the storm. I am not a big fan of Representative Peter King of Long Island, but he hit the nail on the head when he termed his fellow House Republicans reluctance to pass the bill “disgraceful.”

Two-term Congressman Steven Palazzo, a Republican from Mississippi voted against the $9.7 billion Flood Insurance bill for Sandy that passed earlier this month. After Hurricane Katrina, as Deputy Director and CFO of the Biloxi Housing Authority, Palazzo lobbied for funding to rebuild. He is one of 67 Republican house members who voted against the $9.7 billion bill. Of those 67, 37 previously requested or advocated for disaster relief bills for their states. It is coming up to 80 days since Sandy hit. It took 10 days to get aid passed for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 30 days for Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and 49 for Hurricane Isabel in 2003. It is shameful that it has taken this long. Even if the full $51 billion is passed on Tuesday, the delay has only increased the suffering of those whose lives were turned upside down because of Sandy.

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