2014-04-04 / Columnists

Official Point Of View

Build It Back: Help is on the Way?
By Eric Ulrich

Last month, I wrote an op-ed for The Wave detailing many of the issues plaguing the Build it Back (BIB) program and recommended a series of steps that the city could take to improve the program immediately. I also mentioned that the City Council would be holding oversight hearings about the program and hold the people in charge accountable. The City Council finally got its chance to hold that hearing this past Monday and I was joined by many residents from Broad Channel and Rockaway that came down to City Hall to share their experiences. (I hope they took the ferry!)

The biggest development to come out of the hearing was that the mayor has finally appointed a new person to be in charge and administer Build it Back: Amy Peterson. Although this came four months too late, BIB finally has someone that is in charge and accountable. While it was her first day, Ms. Peterson laid out the problems that have plagued BIB and laid out some immediate changes. To her credit, she stayed for the entire hearing and listened to every homeowner that testified, rather than leave after her own testimony as most agency heads do. Ms. Peterson also promised to visit Rockaway and Broad Channel and hold a town hall meeting in the district. Most importantly, she views the length of time that it has taken for the city to help those in need as unacceptable.

Over the weekend, Mayor de Blasio laid out a series of immediate steps that the city will take to streamline and accelerate the Build it Back program. They are:

-Reallocate $100 million in funds from inefficient HUD programs. This will ensure that every home that was destroyed by the storm and applied for BIB regardless of income level will be considered.

-Increase staff at the Housing Recovery Office by 35 percent.

-Accelerate the design process for home repairs and rebuilds by moving design consultation to immediately after an offer is given to a homeowner.

-Allow homeowners to set aside their transfer amounts for temporary relocation expenses if they have to move during reconstruction.

-Eliminate permit and procedural bottlenecks that are slowing repairs and rebuilds; for example, clearing outstanding DOB permits that have prevented some Sandy rebuilds and repairs from moving forward.

-$100 million effort with FEMA to replace destroyed or damaged buildings in 100 public housing buildings.

I’m especially excited to see that the mayor has heard the requests of my council colleagues and me that hard working middle class New Yorkers receive immediate help if their homes were severely damaged or destroyed. Previously, the program’s income eligibility requirements would have meant that middle class families and many civil servants would have been making too much money to be a program priority, while we all know these folks make too little money to rebuild their houses from the ground up.

For the first time in a LONG time, I am cautiously optimistic that Build it Back may live up to its original promise. At the least, there is a sense that the new administration finally sees and understands the glaring and unacceptable failures of the program to date. I’m hopeful that these new changes and new management will help my constituents finally get the relief they’ve so desperately been waiting for.

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