2014-01-17 / Editorial/Opinion

What A Pair: HUD and Build It Back

If Build It Back is designed to frustrate, wear down, exasperate, and confuse then we should start spending some CDBG money on Gold Medals right now. Build It Back reps go to meetings and few people leave happy. Plenty of people leave with more questions than they arrived with.

It’s time for Schumer, Gillibrand, Meeks, de Blasio and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to lock themselves in a room until some common sense solutions are established. Ok, that’s not going to happen but anything short of that will leave us wondering if Build It Back will ever work.

Forget the locked room. How about we tie a tiny electric shock buzzer to the HUD boss, Donovan. Every time Build It Back says they’d like to help but are bound by HUD guidelines, Donovan gets a little jolt, something to make him aware that New Yorkers are being driven crazy.

Of course, he doesn’t have to get buzzed at all. He’s got the power to make a difference. Official language in the Sandy relief Act says the Secretary is authorized “to waive, or specify alternative requirements“ for all the hoops people have to jump through. “Waivers and alternative requirements are based upon a determination by the Secretary that good cause exists and that the waiver or alternative requirement is not inconsistent with the overall purposes” of the aid bill.

Hey Donovan, start waiving!

The latest piece of ridiculousness was revealed at the Community Board meeting Tuesday evening. Kathryn Mallon, the director of Build It Back, who seems alternately frustrated and confused herself by some of the HUD guidelines, said HUD considers an “entire building” when considering household income. So, take the case of a 2-family house. Build It Back wants homeowners to get tax returns or proof of income from their tenants! Quite understandably, many tenants resist this. If the tenant refuses, the homeowner is left with an incomplete application that won’t get processed. This is absurd. And of course, it gets worse.

According to what we heard the other night, a homeowner with a low, fixed income who would normally be a Priority 1 case could be bumped to a Priority 3 if the tenant makes a good salary. Should a senior citizen rent to a couple of professionals who might be new to the area, looking to save and buy a house, or simply prefer renting – well, tough luck on the senior. The wages of the professionals get figured into household income. Not the rent they pay – their salaries!

We couldn’t believe all this, if we heard right. We tried to follow up with Build It Back the next day but were referred to the Mayor’s Office press team. Build It Back used to have a press person but things are now in flux with the new administration. So, for all of you who’ve tried to get straight answers and been frustrated – we hear you!

Oh, then there’s the issue we thought was resolved last summer. In July, Senators Gillibrand and Schumer said HUD had seen the light regarding SBA loans. HUD guidelines originally stated that SBA loans – whether or not people accepted them – would be deducted against any grant amounts offered to homeowners. Thanks to Gillibrand and Schumer, HUD was granting the City “more flexibility” in determining needs and grant money totals. This seemed to address the SBA problem.

Not so fast. Now, just a few months later, Build It Back says those SBA loans are still an issue. If you turned down the loan because the rate was no better or even worse than what you might’ve gotten elsewhere, you are out of luck. They’re counting the loan you could’ve taken against any potential grant amount.

If you turned down the SBA loan because it would have been a financial hardship you now have to make the case to a financial counselor with Build It Back. Advice: smile nicely at the financial counselor, it’s his or her call.

The first Build It Back boss, Brad Gair, said it way back: bad behavior is being rewarded. That gets us back to the bad behavior of sending shocks to Shaun Donovan. Maybe that’s what will work. We shouldn’t be the only ones getting shocked at every turn.

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