By Shanna Fuld
“All they gave us was bleach and sponges,” Maria S., a homeowner in Rockaway Beach, told City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) Monday morning. She said that when Hurricane Sandy decimated the peninsula in November 2012, she did not see the Red Cross or Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Like other homeowners, Maria gathered outside of Ellen Nichtern’s unfinished home at 211-117th St. in Rockaway Park for an 11 a.m. news conference arranged by Ulrich to hear him speak about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s poor handling of the Build it Back Program, created by Bloomberg to repair homes damaged by Sandy. Not one house had been rebuilt under the city program when de Blasio took office in 2014.
“We are standing in front of a home that is like dozens and dozens of homes in this community and like hundreds of others throughout the city that since Hurricane Sandy have not been touched by the Build It Back Program,” Ulrich said. He is considering a possible run against de Blasio in next year’s mayoral race.
The Nichterns have owned the house at 211-117th St. since 1968, but have not been able to live in it or see what’s going on inside for six months. The Build It Back Program promised the Nichterns they would have a lifted, finished home within five months. This is the second time they have had to move out.
“My whole first floor was damaged, my sewer line was damaged. We fixed it ourselves with our own money,” Nichtern said.
Nichtern slept in the living room while waiting for the elevation she needed to fix her bedroom and make it livable again. The people Nichtern communicated with at the Build It Back program told her construction could not begin yet because their company did not have permission from the city Buildings Department. Her 86-year-old mother, also named Ellen Nichtern, could not attend the news conference due to the extreme heat and stayed in the apartment they share on 125th street.
“What’s lacking in the program is not only compassion but accountability. There are no performance measures, there are no metrics. There’s no way to hold any employee or anyone who’s receiving the funding that we got from Congress, billions and billions of dollars to help people rebuild their homes and rebuild their communities,” Ulrich said. “We’re spending money and no one is held accountable.”
Ulrich said his main goal was to see that Amy Peterson, head of housing recovery for the mayor’s office and the director of Build It Back, fired. He also revealed that the Build IT Back administration rejected a request from the City Council to hire an inspector general to review how funds are managed.
In response to a report’s question about the progress of Hurricane Sandy recovery in the city, Ulrich said the Build It Back Program boasts of having 500 construction starts, but an overwhelming number are not completed.
“Do you know how many people have gotten divorced over this?” he asked.