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Breezy Point rebuilds with little help from city program: Residents

By Alex Robinson

In the second year since Superstorm Sandy ravaged Breezy Point and destroyed hundreds of houses, the community has seen a scurry of rebuilding. But many residents contend the effort has happened with little help from the city’s Build it Back program.

Breezy Point, which was originally a community of 2,836 houses, lost 350 homes in the storm. Some 130 of those homes burned to the ground in a fire that started during the storm. Flooding and winds flattened the other 220 in the sandy gated community, which sits on the tip of the Rockaways..

Thousands of homes were damaged and there were very few in Breezy Point that were completely untouched by the flooding.

While few dwellings had been rebuilt in the first year since the storm hit, more than 270 homes have now either been rebuilt or are in the process, according to Arthur Lighthall, the general manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative.

“From a community and home owner point of view, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of work,” Lighthall said.

Build it Back, which uses federal funds to rebuild houses or reimburse home owners who have already done it themselves, has only completed one project to date in Breezy Point, Lighthall said. The program was launched in June 2013 to facilitate the rebuilding of homes, but has been snagged by a confusing applications process, inadequate coordination and delays in executing construction agreements, a recent report by the city Department of Investigation said.

More than 90 percent of households still seeking help from Build it Back citywide have not received any assistance yet, the report said.

“It’s frustrating enough to have to contend and deal with the bureaucracy in some of the city agencies, but it’s even more frustrating to try to offer some support or help to someone who is in the Build it Back program,” Lighthall said. “Nothing seems to be getting done.”

Maritza Mure has been waiting for the Build it Back program to rebuild her waterfront home, which was demolished by the city after floodwaters tore it apart.

“I thought it was going to be a faster process,” she said. “It’s so slow moving. They should have given each family a chunk of money and let them build a house. They’ve wanted to control it so much because of what happened in Katrina, but we’re the ones left out of our own homes.”

The single mother of three, who was a longtime resident of the Rockaways and lived in Breezy Point for eight years, now resides in Long Island while she waits for her turn.

“It’s been very hard on my kids. They’ve been in Breezy Point since they were little and that was all they knew,” she said. “Coming out here was quite a shocker. They lost everything they had.”

She said Build it Back has not even given her any kind of time line for the reconstruction of her home.

“The city needs to take care of the people who lost their homes,” she said. “We’re not looking to cash in on things. We just want our little homes back.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently defended Build it Back, saying a lot of progress has been made since his administration overhauled the program.

The mayor said Build it Back had not begun constructing a single house before he took office, but since then there have been 762 construction starts and 1,090 reimbursement checks sent across the city as of late October.

In Breezy Point, the Build it Back program had only made 100 offers to homeowners at the begging of the year, but has now provided 550 offers to date.

De Blasio committed to start building on an additional 1,000 houses citywide and said the program would distribute 1,500 reimbursements by the end of 2014.

The mayor’s promises gave little hope to Elle Healey, whose house was damaged in the storm, but was not to the point that it needed to be demolished and rebuilt. She said contractors working with Build it Back finally came a few weeks ago to do some work on her house, but did not complete repairs and gave her no indication of when they would be back.

“It’s a sham,” she said of the program. “It’s really horrible what they’re doing.”

Many Breezy Point homeowners have given up on Build It Back all together.

Jimmy and Noreen Dengler were told they would not qualify for the program, because they did not buy flood insurance after they were granted federal funds to deal with damage caused by Hurricane Irene a year before Sandy struck.

The Denglers are set to move into their brand new home in Breezy Point next month after two years of wrangling with the city, FEMA and insurance companies to get their house leveled and rebuilt.

“The process has been very rough,” Jimmy Dengler said.

The family had 6 feet of water in their living room after the storm and had to tear down their home and completely rebuild it.

On top of figuring out how they would finance their new home, the Denglers had to wait for flood maps to be released by FEMA to know how they could rebuild. Those maps were not finalized until spring 2013.

“I don’t know what’s worse – FEMA giving us hope and snatching it away or letting us just meddle through on our own,” he said.

The family has moved to four different residences while it went through a long struggle to rebuild.

The Denglers said they were initially worried that other families might not rebuild in Breezy Point, which would possibly depress the area and lessen the value of their own home. But families have begun moving back into their homes and the small tight-knit community – where passers-by say hello to each other and residents rarely lock their doors – has started to get back on its feet.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobi‌nson@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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