By Kelsey Durham
Community members and borough leaders applauded an announcement from Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week that a new leadership team will take over the Build It Back recovery efforts throughout the city as Queens residents continue to rebuild homes they lost in Superstorm Sandy.
De Blasio visited the Rockaways Saturday to introduce three people he appointed to help fast-track the rebuilding program he said was not effective under the previous administration because too much federal bureaucracy stopped city residents from getting the money they needed.
The mayor named Bill Goldstein, a former Metropolitan Transportation Authority official who also previously served as CEO of the city School Construction Authority, as Build It Back’s overall leader in the role of senior adviser for recovery, resiliency and infrastructure.
De Blasio appointed experienced nonprofit leader Amy Peterson to direct the office of housing recovery, and Staten Island engineer Daniel Zarrilli will lead the office of recovery and resiliency. He said these new appointments, along with $100 million in funds that were reallocated to help with Sandy rebuilding efforts, are the first steps toward making sure those who lost their homes in the storm finally get the help they need.
“I want to thank Mayor de Blasio and Sen. Schumer for their efforts and intentions to assist my constituents still recovering from the aftermath and devastation from Superstorm Sandy,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who represents a large portion of the southern Queens residents who were affected by the 2012 storm. “The most important step was to acknowledge that the Build It Back program was not working for most of my constituents throughout Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, Rockaway and Breezy Point and that changes were necessary.”
The mayor said over the last three months his administration has been working to improve Build It Back, a city program created in June to help homeowners, landlords and tenants return to their Sandy-damaged houses and apartments. He pledged that every home destroyed by the storm would be rebuilt, regardless of the owner’s income or previous prioritization rating.
Those who had applied for Build It Back had been given priority levels from one to three depending on storm damage and income level, with Priority 1 applicants having the highest financial need and whose properties sustained the most damage.
“This is what people have been waiting for,” de Blasio said. “From Day One of my administration, this has been a priority, to get critical funds finally going where they belong, to the hands of deserving New Yorkers.”
The mayor’s move to progress Build It Back was also praised by religious leaders citywide, who say they have seen not only the physical but also the emotional toll the storm has taken on homeowners and their families since it made landfall in New York nearly a year and a half ago.
“After 17 months of ministering to families whose lives and homes were destroyed by Sandy, we’re enthusiastic about these urgently needed improvements to the city’s recovery strategy,” said Bishop James I. Clark Jr., co-chairman of the Faith in New York religious leaders group. “Thousands of families in our communities have been suffering unnecessarily, awaiting help from the city to rebuild their homes and their lives. We support Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to address not only the ongoing immediate crisis but also create long-term resiliency by reducing racial and economic inequality through the Sandy rebuild.”
Despite de Blasio’s announcement of new leadership, some residents and city officials say they have lost faith in Build It Back and are still skeptical of how successful the initiative can really be.
“Build It Back has been an abysmal failure since Day One,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who represents the Rockaways and the beach communities that were most affected by the storm. “Bureaucratic red tape, lost paperwork and overall lack of accountability have stood in the way of people getting the help they need. I am hoping that the new administration will address these longstanding issues and deliver the relief that homeowners and residents have been waiting for.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.