De Blasio And Schumer Say It’s Fixed
Seventeen months after Sandy tore through Rockaway, homeowners may finally be getting some relief as the broken Build it Back program is getting rebuilt. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer announced at a press conference at Rockaway Park’s Seaside Library that $100 million will be reallocated to fund rebuilding all Sandydestroyed homes. Furthermore, Build it Back is getting a staff boost and the red tape will finally be cut, so that Sandy victims can finally start getting their lives back to normal.
On March 29, the mayor announced that $100 million of HUD-CDBG funds will be reallocated to ensure that all homes destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy will be rebuilt, no matter what a homeowner’s income or current program prioritization may be.
Under Build it Back, applicants are currently on priority lists based largely on their income, meaning someone with a high income may still be a low Priority 3 even if their home is unlivable. In his announcement, de Blasio said there will be less emphasis on income and more emphasis on getting people back in their homes.
“Nothing is more central than getting people back into their homes and that’s why we’ve moved $100 million to that effort right now, to get people back where they belong,” de Blasio said at the conference.
Both de Blasio and Schumer said the Bloomberg administration was to blame for the flawed early Sandy recovery attempt and they’re hoping to improve upon the aspects that didn’t work. “I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with what happened in the last months before we came into office, but I want to note a lot of good people worked very hard. We know some of the plans we inherited didn’t work. We also know that some of the plans were good,” de Blasio said. “We’re ready to right the ship and move forward.”
Schumer said, “I really liked Mayor Bloomberg but I argued with him on Sandy recovery. I thought there were problems. Homeowners didn’t get a high enough priority. When we wrote the Sandy bill, the number one priority was getting homeowners money so they could fix their properties and he didn’t give it as high as a priority,” Schumer said. “When it came to homeowners, he made two mistakes. First, the process was so overly bureaucratic that no one in New York City had gotten a single nickel. Second, they had levels of people. They said they’re just going to help the poorest people, priority 1. We want to help poor people. We also want to help a school teacher whose house is wiped out or a cop or a firefighter who isn’t rich. To say they had to wait and go back to the back of the line didn’t make any sense.”
To speed up the process of sending out money to those who need it, the Housing Recovery Office (HRO) staff is being boosted by 35 percent as skilled workers from other city agencies will be transferred into HRO. This will bring the staff total to 105 people assigned to right the ship. And de Blasio says the red tape that has been making the recovery process more difficult for homeowners will finally be cut. The permits and procedures that have been slowing repairs and rebuilds will be eliminated and the recovery office will work with the Department of Buildings on this.
For example, all outstanding DOB permits that have kept homeowners from repairs or rebuilding will be cleared. Before the end of the conference, Schumer reiterated the City’s goals. “First, we’re going to make homeownership a priority again. Second, the $100 million will allow Priority 2 and 3 homeowners to be funded at the same time as Priority 1. And third, we’re going to clear out the bureaucratic weeds so people can get money faster.
“The news today is important and significant but it is only a beginning. This is going to be a central area of focus for me and my administration,” de Blasio said at the conference. “Our work will not be over until everyone is situated again. That is our goal.”
To do all of this, de Blasio has also appointed a whole new leadership team for the Sandy recovery process. Bill Goldstein, formerly the Executive Vice President at MTA Capital Construction, will serve as Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Recovery, Resiliency, and Infrastructure. In this role, he will oversee all Sandy recovery efforts including planning and executing New York City’s infrastructure efforts and overseeing the new Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR). The ORR will coordinate the city’s rebuilding and resiliency efforts using federal funds.
Daniel Zarrilli, an architect of the city’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) plan, was appointed as the head of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency. He will report to Goldstein.
De Blasio named Amy Peterson as the director of the Housing Recovery Office. Peterson, an experienced not-for-profit and public sector executive, has experience with disaster recovery as she was an engineer who worked on the city’s recovery following 9/11.
“We know that the road won’t always be straight and easy,” the mayor said, “There will be bumps along the way, but that will not stop us from getting the job done.”