Rapid Repairs program wrapping up in Queens

Photo by Karen Frantz

Broad Channel resident Robert Keith woke up the morning after Hurricane Sandy to find 6 feet of water in his home. The floodwaters reached so high that his boiler and electrical power box were submerged, knocking out his heat, hot water and electricity.

“I slept in my car to keep warm on very cold nights. I showered in the volunteer fire department,” he recalled.

But then, he said, “Rapid Repairs came in like army ants and locusts,” surveying every single house in the channel and restoring heat, electricity and hot water to many homes.

Rapid Repairs is a first-of-its-kind program that deploys contractors and skilled construction workers to make free, essential repairs to residences so people can live in their homes as they continue to rebuild after Sandy.

And at a news conference last Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the program is nearing completion, having restored 20,000 residences and gotten 54,000 people back into their homes. Those figures represent more than 99 percent of all homes that signed up for the program.

“That is a remarkable achievement, one we expect will become a textbook case of innovation and a resource for an effective response to an unprecedented natural disaster,” he said at the conference at the Broad Channel American Legion, at 209 Cross Bay Blvd.

He said the program solved the problem of how to deploy a limited number of electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers, who can be difficult to schedule and expensive to hire.

“If everyone had to do it on their own, we wouldn’t remotely be in as good a situation as we are now,” he said.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), whose district was hard-hit by the storm, said Rapid Repairs provided a tremendous cost savings for financially burdened residents.

“They lost their cars, they lost their homes, but they were still trying to keep their dignity,” he said. “And I think that the Rapid Repairs program really went a long way towards helping the people in this community keep their dignity, keep their homes, restore their lives and give them peace of mind knowing that everything eventually was going to be OK.”

Bloomberg said that with the program winding down, the city is moving to the next stage of recovery. The city released an action plan last Friday to spend $1.77 billion in federal aid to help residents and businesses recover. The plan, which can be found online at nyc.gov, will be open to public comments until April 4, after which it will be submitted to the federal government for approval.

In addition, Bloomberg said $10 million in private donations from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York will go to assist in minor, non-structural repairs to one- and two-family homes.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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