Since Sandy ravaged the tristate area, homeowners battling with insurance companies have resorted to paying for damages out of their own pockets.
“Right now, we’re using our savings,” said Rose Miller, 86, of Belle Harbor. “I keep my fingers crossed every time I take money out. We’re holding our breath with each payment.”
Initially, residents like Miller were on their own without reimbursement, and local leaders stepped in to call on the city to extend a hand. City officials responded Tuesday night by announcing “qualified homeowners,” those who paid with their own money, or without a FEMA loan, would be reimbursed.
Councilmember Donovan Richards hosted a press conference on Sunday, April 21 with Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder and State Senator James Sanders. They called on the city to reimburse people like Miller who are scrounging their savings to rebuild.
Miller and her husband have lived in their Rockaway home for over 50 years. After Sandy, the couple had to completely gut their basement, redo floors, purchase new appliances, clear wreckage outside, empty sand that had washed inside and more. Miller estimates her repairs totaled around $48,000.
“We’re not going fancy,” Miller said. “We’re just getting our lives back in order.”
A 10-foot plank from the boardwalk washed up to their front stoop, which was broken in pieces. Three family cars were also completely ruined.
“We’re still suffering,” Miller said. “People don’t realize how deeply the neighborhood is affected. All of the reactions have died down.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is set to pay out the first $1.7 billion in Sandy aid to affected areas. While homeowners in New Jersey and Nassau County will be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, Sanders, Goldfeder and Richards said homeowners in New York City will be left in the lurch.
“We are in a crisis,” said Richards. “To say we’re not going to help these people is a crime. We are calling on the mayor’s office to reimburse homeowners. It is the right thing to do.”
The trio of politicians all said they have written to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, asking him to guarantee federal relief money go toward reimbursing homeowners.
They added that most of the city’s Sandy aid will go to infrastructure rebuilding and growth and called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to put homeowners first.
“We shouldn’t minimize any family,” Goldfeder said. “If you need the services, if you need the help, you need the city to step up and be there for you.”
The officials said the city is worried about people trying to inflate the cost of damages they suffered. But Sanders noted that if a FEMA inspector visited a damaged home, the owner would have an actual appraisal to give back to the city.
“The city is being pigheaded on an issue where they’re not helping the middle class,” he said. “If you were facing the bitter [winter] cold and you did not want to see your family tormented, you went into your pocket you did whatever you had to do and you put your home back together, [and] you should get a refund.”
Richards estimated that homeowners suffered an average of at least $50,000 in damage to their homes. Goldfeder said he sustained upwards of $60,000 to his Far Rockaway home, while Sanders cited around $30,000 in costs himself. The typical FEMA grant is about $30,000. Miller received $14,000 from FEMA.
-BY MAGGIE HAYES AND TERENCE CULLEN