Grant money renews push for FEMA co-op equality

Grant money renews push for FEMA co-op equality
Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Queens welcomed the news that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would include co-op and condominium owners in its housing grants for Hurricane Sandy relief, but U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge) said there was still more to be done.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that HUD would allow Community Development Block Grants Disaster Recovery money to fund repairs for co-op and condo owners affected by Superstorm Sandy. The aid comes from $1.7 billion HUD will be giving New York for Sandy relief, the department said.

If their applications are accepted, homeowners could receive money to repair damaged common areas such as lobbies, boilers or elevators, Schumer said.

“We have finally cleared a bureaucratic hurdle that prevented thousands of homeowners in New York City and Long Island from getting the help they needed,” said Schumer. “We have always said that condos and co-ops should be eligible for the same assistance as single-family homes, and now they are.”

But in an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers, Israel said the opportunities for co-op and condo owners to receive HUD grant money was only the first step of a two-step process, which should include additional funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This is a good first step that Sen. Schumer has helped produce, but the mission is not complete,” Israel said. “What co-ops need is FEMA assistance. What they get now is the eligibility to apply for a competitive grant.”

Co-ops and condos currently are not eligible for FEMA grant money because the agency has classified them as business associations, which only qualify for loans, a spokesman said.

Under the HUD grant eligibility Schumer announced earlier this week, co-op and condo owners must apply for the same competitive money that goes on to fund projects such as park repairs and sidewalk enhancements, Israel said.

Israel joined with community leaders throughout northeast Queens earlier this year to urge FEMA leaders to revisit how it classifies co-op and condo owners when doling out grant money in the wake of natural disasters.

Bay Terrace Community Alliance President Warren Schreiber, who said his community suffered between $50,000 and $100,000 in damages after Sandy, has been looking for a more permanent approach than HUD grant money.

“It is good news that this money will be made available to co-ops impacted by Sandy, but that money is part of a whole package,” Schreiber said. “That helps us this time, but it’s sort of a Band-Aid approach. We still want to focus on having the FEMA rules changed so that any time a natural disaster is declared, such as Sandy, the co-op and condo community would be eligible for FEMA grants.”

Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich said the HUD money could be helpful after his community sustained more than $300,000 in damage left in Sandy’s wake, but he was also disappointed that FEMA failed to include co-ops.

“After the storm, I was shocked to find that FEMA grant money was not available to co-ops but were available to homeowners. This discrimination based on the housing choice of families was unconscionable,” Friedrich said. “We will be watching to see how this [HUD] program plays out and if the residents of our communities will be helped by HUD via financial assistance to the impacted co-ops and condominiums.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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