2013-04-26 / Front Page

City May Reimburse For Repairs Not Covered

By Kevin Boyle

In order for the City to get the $1.7 Billion in Sandy Relief money under something called the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the City must submit a plan to the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD). Before submitting the plan to HUD, a draft of the plan is made available so that individuals and interested community groups can comment. The comments are then addressed in the formal plan submitted to HUD.

In its first draft of the plan, the City ruled out reimbursement for homeowners for their out of pocket repairs (those not covered by insurance or FEMA). New York State and New Jersey, also in line for similar amounts of money, indicated that they would reimburse for such expenses.

The City said it changed course after it received public comments and will now set aside some monies for reimbursements..

Although some homeowners might now be in line for reimbursements, the particulars have not been spelled out. Matters of income, extent of damage, receipts for work completed, and any number of other factors are expected to come into play before reimbursements are made. These details should become clearer when, and if, HUD approves the plan.

Wave readers might be surprised to learn that the City was required by HUD to draft a plan and request public comments at all. The Wave received no official notice, nor did Community Board 14.

Regarding public awareness, HUD guidelines state:

The manner of publication MUST include prominent posting on the grantee’s official Web site and must afford citizens…and interested parties a reasonable opportunity to examine the plan or amendment’s contents. The topic of disaster recovery must be navigable by citizens from the grantee (or relevant agency) homepage. Grantees are also encouraged to notify affected citizens through electronic mailings, press releases, statements by public officials, media advertisements, public service announcements, and/or contacts with neighborhood organizations.

The City did indeed post the plan on its website although many people never knew it was posted and those that did say it was hardly apparent or easy to navigate. Further, the City did little to publicize the plan off line, encouraging no input from people who don’t regularly go online.

In its plan to HUD, The City says it received 377 comments from the public, a seemingly paltry number in light of the many thousands of people affected by the Storm.

Forty or so commenters asked the City about reimbursements. Nearly the same amount questioned the city about community engagement and its attempts to make citizens aware of the process.

The City’s response submitted to HUD:

The City took extensive measures to ensure that participation was facilitated for all segments of the population and similar measures will be taken for future Plans and Amendments. Please refer to the Executive Summary and Citizen Participation sections. The City has and will continue to engage the community through a variety of outlets including community meetings, open houses, social media, and other formats.

This response struck The Wave as so disingenuous the paper has sent a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan alleging that the City failed miserably in its efforts to “engage the community.” The Wave further alleges in its letter, that if the City “continues to engage” as it has, there will be no engagement going forward as monies are disbursed.

The response from HUD will be printed as soon as The Wave receives it.

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