Israel bill calls on FEMA to include co-ops

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Queens lawmakers were unable to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to include co-ops and condos when doling out grant money after severe storms and now stand behind legislation that would force them to do so if passed.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) introduced a bill Tuesday that would ultimately rewrite the federal Stafford Act to make co-op and condo associations eligible for the same federal aid as other homeowners in the wake of disaster, ending what he and others called a discriminatory policy. The lawmaker joined with co-op presidents and elected officials earlier this year after noting the homeowners were being barred from federal aid to recover from Superstorm Sandy because of an inaccurate classification in the law’s fine print.

“A storm does not discriminate where it hits, and FEMA should not be discriminating against what type of homeowners it helps,” Israel said. “It seems clear that FEMA’s policy is the result of not understanding the role of co-ops and condos in our community.”

FEMA currently labels co-op and condos as business associations, which qualify only for federal loans and not grant money. Israel said Congress must now rewrite the Stafford Act, which oversees how FEMA distributes recovery grant money, to include the groups in its federal aid package along with other homeowners.

A FEMA spokesman said residents who live in co-op and condo organizations do, in fact, qualify for emergency grant money through the agency’s Individual Assistance program, depending on their agreements with the associations overseeing them.

But any damages to common areas owned by the co-op or condo boards can only be addressed through the U.S. Small Business Association’s repair loans program.

That distinction has created a gray area between homeowners, their co-op and condo boards and the federal government. The disconnect hit hardest in New York City and particularly northeast Queens because of the area’s high concentration of unique co-op and condo housing.

Israel stood beside state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) at a Bay Terrace news conference Monday calling on Congress to pass the bipartisan legislation.

Bay Terrace Co-op Section I President Warren Schreiber said his community sustained roughly $100,000 in damages after Hurricane Sandy and repair costs have fallen onto the shoulders of its shareholders who live there.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting to make the repairs,” he said. “This is long overdue legislation that will hopefully address an omission that never should have been there.”

It was a similar scene at nearby Glen Oaks Village, where co-op President Bob Friedrich reported more than $250,000 in damages to the neighborhood’s trees, sidewalks and roofs of more than half of the 134 buildings there.

“Let me remind FEMA that the mothers, fathers and children of Glen Oaks Village are no different than the mothers, fathers and children who live in private homes,” Friedrich said. “To deny co-ops the ability to obtain FEMA grant money simply because of the type of housing choices their residents have made is shameful and should not have taken this legislation to correct it.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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