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Photo: Flickr from user Audio7Feedback
Photo: Flickr from user Audio7Feedback
Since 2013 the Build it Back program has promised assistance for New Yorkers affected by Superstorm Sandy. For some, assistance still hasn't come over four years later.

One Rockaway official is calling for some drastic changes to be made to a city program aimed at helping people get back into their homes after Superstorm Sandy.

Councilman Eric Ulrich voiced his concerns over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s handling of the Build it Back Program and called for the resignation or termination of the program’s director, Amy Peterson, on Tuesday.

“It’s sad and unfortunate that nearly four years after the storm, the mayor refuses to take responsibility for the failure of Build it Back,” Ulrich said. “There is a total lack of accountability and compassion. Amy Peterson should resign today and allow new leadership to run the program more effectively. If she won’t resign, Mayor de Blasio should fire her.”

Peterson was appointed director of the Build it Back Program by Mayor de Blasio in 2014.

According to Raul Conteras, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, before Peterson was appointed to run the program, not one homeowner had received a check or seen construction. The administration quickly overhauled the program and took over direct management. Since then, 80 percent of homeowners have been served with over $120 million. Mayor de Blasio hopes to see the remaining homes across the city rebuilt by the end of 2016.

“She’s been excellent and to say anything else would be a blatant lie,” Councilman Donovan Richards said.

Neponsit resident Mark Dana has a different opinion of those involved in the Build it Back Program: “These people are disgusting, incompetent thieves and liars,” Dana said.

Dana and his family lost everything after the hurricane hit their home in Neponsit. According to Dana, he went back and forth with Build It Back representatives for more than three years to receive financial assistance to help pay over $100,000 in damages. He had to refile paperwork seven different times with the program.

According to Dana the Build it Back Program informed him that money would be allocated for his home repairs from the very beginning of the initial application process. Later they changed their tune and said his house would have to be raised to receive assistance. After talking with his lawyer, Dana decided to have the house raised higher off the ground. Even then, Dana was informed that he was only eligible for $17,000 in assistance.

Dana decided to take what he could get and signed off on the Build it Back funding assistance in December of 2015. A week later, he was informed that he had been removed from the program  due to “non-response.” Dana claims he had been coming to the program’s offices at least three times a week since his initial inquiry.

“They were making us jump through hoops for 3 1/2 years,” Dana said. “Every way possible to get screwed through this program we were screwed.”

Dana was fortunate however. The Friends of Rockaway Group volunteered to preform significant construction on his home. He says if it wasn’t for their help, he and his family wouldn’t have a home to go back to.

According to the NYC Build it Back website, the program was created in 2013 to assist homeowners, landlords and tenants within the five boroughs whose primary homes were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Build it Back provides funding for reconstruction through city-selected developers or contractors chosen independently by property owners that follow program guidelines and fall within cost restrictions.

The program is funded by the Federal Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recover.

Councilman Mark Treyger took to Twitter in his defense of Peterson, writing, “[New York City’s Build it Back Program] may face challenges, but Amy Peterson is not one of them. She deserves much credit for improvement of [the] program post-Bloomberg.”

Ulrich told the story of Ellen Nichtern and her mother. They have been out of their home for the past five months. Ulrich claims that in that time, the Build it Back program hasn’t done any work on their home or remained in contact with Ellen Nichtern for updates on the status of the project. Urich finds the situation “entirely unacceptable.”

“Like so many of my constituents affected by Superstorm Sandy, Ellen Nichtern has been let down by the bureaucrats at Build it Back,” Ulrich said. “This program is a complete disaster. Everyone knows it.”

 

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