Council passes co-op resolution in favor of FEMA storm funds

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

It took the City Council just under two weeks to unanimously agree that Queens co-ops and condos deserve federal storm recovery money, but the government in Washington has yet to jump onboard.

Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) introduced a resolution earlier this month along with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) that urges Congress to reclassify co-ops and condos from business associations to homeowners, ultimately making them eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money.

Lawmakers have blamed the current classification on a simple misunderstanding that was put under the microscope after Superstorm Sandy decimated the New York City area.

“The Council represents people who were directly affected by Sandy, whereas the federal government doesn’t,” Vallone said. “We believe it’s a very simple concept. These co-ops and condos are not business entities. They’re not corporations. They’re homeowners. They deserve the same help as the other homeowners.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) joined with several other Queens legislators earlier this year to introduce a bill that would reclassify co-op and condo owners in FEMA’s fine print by amending the federal Stafford Act, the agency’s playbook when responding to natural disasters. If passed, the legislation would simply include the term “co-op” in the current law.

Vallone introduced the resolution Sept. 12 and saw it pass 12 days later. The end result, he said, was a unified voice on the city level in support of federal legislation brought to Congress more than nine months ago.

“It passed in the Council unanimously and very quickly, which shows how serious we are,” Vallone said. “Hopefully, this will give the federal legislation the impetus it needs to get passed.”

Any property owned by the co-op association, such as a roof classified as common property, must currently go through the U.S. Small Business Association to receive repair loans, according to SBA Public Affairs Specialist Michael Peacock. It is a practice that co-op and condo owners have staunchly opposed since Superstorm Sandy, especially in condo-heavy northeast Queens.

Glen Oaks Village President Bob Friedrich said his 134-building community sustained more than $250,000 in damages to area trees, sidewalks and roofs during Sandy, with the cost falling on everyday residents’ shoulders.

“It is unconscionable that FEMA refuses to help the working-class community of Glen Oaks Village that sustained more than $250,000 of damage from Hurricane Sandy because we are a co-op,” Friedrich said. “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.”

Bay Terrace Co-op Section I President Warren Schreiber has also been a consistent advocate of Israel’s legislation and said his area suffered nearly $100,000 in damages during the late October storm.

“Currently, the cost of disaster-related repairs fall squarely upon the shoulders of middle-class owners who are least able to bear additional financial burdens,” Schreiber said. “Amending the Stafford Act will provide co-ops and condos with the same protections afforded other property owners.”

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

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