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Mayor touts ‘steady progress’ for Build It Back initiative

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the Build it Back program has helped a total of 12,500 families in 8,300 homes.
Naeisha Rose

Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City five years ago Oct. 29, 2012 and as that anniversary approached Mayor Bill de Blasio released a report Monday on the progress of his Build It Back initiative.

Build It Back is a city program created to restore homes in the five boroughs damaged by the historic storm.

“As we near the end of the Build It Back program, we are continuing to make steady progress,” de Blasio said. “We have succeeded in getting more than 10,000 families back in safe and resilient homes and stronger communities. We have more work to do, and this program will not be done until every family is home.”

Matt Viggiano, a spokesman for the NYC Housing Recovery Operations, which works with Build It Back, said that of the 8,307 single family applicants who signed up and remained in the program, nearly half — or 3,583 to be exact — were from Queens.

Some of the hardest hit areas in Queens were Breezy Point, Broad Channel, and Hamilton Beach, according to City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who represents the Rockaways.

De Blasio’s report confirms this.

“Breezy had the worse damage because it had fire and flood, and 131 homes burnt down to the ground, and the bay and the ocean met,” said Ulrich. “The homes were low in elevation.”

The other areas with substantial damage that were elevated, rebuilt or bought by the city in Queens were Roxbury, Edgemere and Arverne, according to the report.

Areas with moderate damage in Queens were Howard Beach, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, and Far Rockaway-Bayswater.

Despite the program making a lot of progress over the last year, Ulrich believes the mayor could have accomplished more a lot sooner.

“Until very recently [Build It Back] wasn’t going at all,” Ulrich said. “What is more disturbing are the number of people who were removed from the program, kicked out of the program or people who gave up on the program and withdrew themselves.”

The initial number of applicants for Build It Back was 20,000, he said.

“There were no benchmarks, there were no performance measures and there was no way to hold [contractors] accountable,” Ulrich said.

Helping the homeowners who left Build It Back or were not eligible for the program was Rebuilding Together NYC, a non-profit that does home repairs for low-income homeowners.

“We focused on helping people who were not making it through the Build It Back program,” said Kimberly George, the executive director of Rebuilding Together NYC.

They helped rebuild homes in the Rockaways.

“The homes there are surrounded on both sides by water,” George said. “The damage was pretty severe.”

The small homes they worked on cost $5,000 in repairs, the bigger homes $100,000, and the overall average cost in repairs it faced was $25,000, according to George.

Rebuilding Together fixed those homes with volunteer contractors, George said.

Rebuilding Together uses vinyl plank flooring and purple board drywalls, which are water resistant.

Gerard Romski, one of the contractors for the city who is rebuilding homes in Arverne, conceded Build It Back was bumpy at first, but also pointed out that the homes they were fixing were old and the regulations for homes built today are more stringent.

“We needed to get individual wetland permits, which takes some time,” Romski said. “Every house is different and some of them were built in the 1920s.”

The average age of homes elevated to comply with federal flood insurance regulations was 81, the average age of homes rebuilt was 85, and the average age of homes repaired was 64, according to the city’s report.

When those homes were built, there was no regulations for building houses by wetlands or standard on home they should be built, according to Romski.

The city is now using modular homes that can be built by stacking wood together, making the structures more stable, and are double boarded, according to Ulrich.

“We have an obligation to make sure the people who need help get the help we promised to deliver to them,” he said.

The remaining homes that need to be finished are expected to be completed around March 2018, the mayor said.

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