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Hurricane Sandy Anniversary 2014: Billions Of Dollars In Federal Aid Still Unpaid


Two years after Hurricane Sandy, billions of dollars in federal aid remains unpaid as thousands of households in New York and New Jersey struggle to repair the homes, businesses and lives the storm destroyed.

Some homeowners are still juggling both rents and mortgages while they wait for the wheels of the federal bureaucracy to gather momentum and start doling out property rehabilitation and rebuilding assistance. Many complain of excessive bureaucratic procedures, lost aid applications and government-hired contractors that never show up. The slow pace of emergency recovery funding has many wondering what’s taking so long.

“Things are picking up now, but given that we’re two years out, it’s been awful. I was just on the phone this morning with a woman who’s squatting in her own home,” Margaret Becker, director of disaster recovery and community development for Legal Services NYC, says.

Since the federal government began disbursing taxpayer money from a $48 billion storm recovery fund in March 2013, just 23 percent, or $11.09 billion, had been paid out as of September 2014, according to the latest data from the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Office.


But the aid for rebuilding these homes has largely remained untapped. Local nonprofits and state officials blame Washington for creating a complicated process of authorizing and approving disbursements, despite the “no bureaucracy, no red tape” promise from President Barack Obama.


The Department of Housing And Urban Development, which received a $15.2 billion budget — the largest share of the recovery fund — has paid out only $1.75 billion, leaving nearly $14 billion untapped as the region heads into the third year of recovery.

The process of applying for and receiving HUD assistance, which is distributed to the states and New York City in the form of so-called Community Development Block Grants, has been so frustrating to homeowners that some have given up completely.

New York City’s Department of Investigation, which examined the city’s HUD-funded Build It Back program, found that a staggering 90 percent of 14,000 approved rebuilding assistance applicants have yet to see a single dollar of aid. An additional 6,000 applications have fallen silent as homeowners give up on government help. In a report published earlier this month, the investigation’s department said “a confusing, multi-layered application process, among other issues, have caused bottlenecks that delayed the application process and critical assistance from reaching homeowners.”

While these block grants are beneficial — because they allow local flexibility in the way funds are allocated — the process can take a long time, says Susannah Dyen, coordinator for Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a New York City-based organization that advocates for more equitable distribution of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds.


The current system of flood relief was set up in the wake Hurricane Katrina, which decimated the Gulf Coast in and around New Orleans in 2005.  That storm is the nation’s costliest on record, and in its aftermath FEMA was by far the main administrator of aid disbursement. The agency received $50.55 billion but was wracked with egregious examples of corruption and waste, including hotels that fraudulently charged the government for flood victims they didn’t house and the renovation of an Army base that ended up costing $416,000 for each evacuee it sheltered.

Since then, disaster relief funds have been doled out in more equal chunks to the four major recipients: FEMA, for immediate aid assistance; HUD, for property repair and resilience projects (to protect from future floods); the Department of Transportation, to fix roads and public transport systems; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to bolster flood protection infrastructure. The restructuring aims to increase the participation of states through block grants rather than force a top-down federal approach.


During the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s U.S. landfall, lawmakers seemed contrite, acknowledging the slow pace of relief funds. After all, it took Congress and the White House nearly three months to hammer out the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and the first allotment to disaster relief began three months after that.

“In year one, we all agree the aid flowed too slowly. There was red tape,” Sen. Chuck Schumer saidduring an Oct. 28, 2013 event announcing New York City would receive additional community development block grant funds. “The second year will be a whole lot better … The aid spigot is now open.”

Schumer was referring to $5 billion in HUD housing recovery money allocated to five Sandy-afflicted states. It took months after Schumer’s statement for local government to cope with their own bureaucracies and red tape to distribute assistance to the homeowners.

For example, according to data from New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs, the state’s homeowner reconstruction fund, only $8.4 million was distributed to the state’s flood victims for housing reconstruction by September 2013. Money began flowing more freely to New Jersey homeowners after HUD’s $5 billion disbursement in the fourth quarter of 2013, but it was a slow process, especially for people who had been coping with damaged properties for more than a year.


Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s consumer affairs department, says the waiting list for homeowners who’ve applied and were authorized for housing reconstruction assistance has dropped to 2,100, down from about 8,500 this time last year.

“We understand the frustration of New Jersey homeowners that were affected by the storm have. There are still some people who are still not back in their homes,” Ryan says. “But what we’re trying to express to people is the program has been launched and it’s running its course, and every week we’re getting better at disbursing funds.”

One solution that might help speed up aid distribution — implement a system in which block grants to local communities are set up as contingencies before a natural disaster hits, says Becker, the lawyer who’s helping New York City residents get flood assistance.

“The problem is there isn’t something off-the-shelf for communities to start implementing more quickly,” she says. “The idea that FEMA comes in to meet immediate short-term needs and then HUD comes in later, that’s been problematic.”

To read the full article, visit the International Business Times’s website.

5 things still broken 2 years after Superstorm Sandy


Superstorm Sandy struck the Northeast two years ago this week, killing more than 150 people. It caused an estimated $65 billion worth of damage; more than 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Sandy’s powerful winds plus its sheer size — it extended 500 miles from its center — caused record storm surges, flooding, and power outages that affected as many as 8.5 million people in 21 states.

What was then a widely felt, fast-moving catastrophe has become a slow-moving effort to rebuild. Two years later, the region is still struggling to funnel funds to those who need it most. While there has been notable progress in restoring damaged beaches and boardwalks along the New Jersey shore and in New York’s Rockaways, many homeowners and small businesses are still trying to get back on their feet.

Here are five things that remain far from fixed:

1. Only 1 in 5 people say their communities are getting back to normal.

Overall, while the worst of the damage has been dealt with, a recent Associated Press-NORD Center for Public Affairs Research survey of 12 communities hit by Sandy found that around 22 percent of respondents say their areas are only partially back to normal. Five percent say their neighborhoods have barely recovered at all.


2. New York City’s plan to rebuild damaged homes has stalled.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the city of New York launched “Build It Back,” a program to facilitate the rebuilding of destroyed or damaged houses and cover out-of-pocket expenses for homeowners and businesses incurred because of the storm. But the agency responsible for dishing out the money has been mired in delays and inefficiencies.

A new report issued by the city’s Department of Investigation reveals that more than 90 percent of applications to the program have yet to receive any financial assistance — that’s 14,000 homeowners. Sandy victims have been subject to “a confusing, multi-layered application process” that has “caused bottlenecks that delayed the application process and critical assistance from reaching homeowners.”


The mayor has been touring affected areas to tout his administration’s new target: 1,000 construction starts and 1,500 reimbursement checks by the end of the year. “There is still a lot of work to get done, but my understanding from on the ground is that the application process is going faster, is going smoother,” Susannah Dyen, coordinator for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, told the Wall Street Journal.

3. Federal loans to small business owners have been delayed.

According to the federal Government Accountability Office, the Small Business Administration took roughly twice as long as intended to approve disaster loans to home and business owners. A GAO report released last week found that applications for loans to cover property damage took an average of 45 days to process; the SBA had said it would only take 21 days.

A little more than 40 percent of business owners who have applied for SBA loans have received one — a lower rate of approval than for victims of Hurricane Katrina. That’s led Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) to call for Congress to reopen SBA’s disaster program so small businesses get another shot at applying for help.

The GAO also said the agency is ill-prepared for future disasters: “As a result, SBA risks continuing to be unprepared for a large number of disaster loan applications to be submitted at the beginning of a disaster response.”

4. New York City’s art scene is still struggling.


While some changes have been dramatic — like relocating entire collections — other shifts have been subtle. “Objects that are more fragile or more difficult to move may be exhibited in January or March, after the hurricane season,” one art insurer, Claire Marmion, told the Observer.

5. FEMA wants some of its money back.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has handed out $1.4 billion for disaster survivors across five states, but the agency is also asking for its money back. In early September, the Associated Press found that FEMA has asked around 850 households to return a total of $5.8 million in Sandy relief money. About $53 million in payments are now reportedly under review. These cases are not the result of fraudulent activity by people making false claims, but rather the agency’s own mismanagement.

To read the full article, visit Grist.

Sandy Aid Has Yet to Reach Thousands, City Report Says

By Laura Kusisto

Oct. 9, 2014 9:21 p.m. ET

It could take several more years to rebuild homes and reimburse about 14,000 homeowners hit by superstorm Sandy almost two years ago, according to a report issued Thursday by the city Department of Investigation.

The report says “a confusing, multilayered application process, among other issues, have caused bottlenecks that delayed the application process and critical assistance from reaching homeowners.” About 90% of homeowners seeking help from the city’s Build It Back program have yet to receive assistance.

The report lends weight to complaints by residents and politicians that have shadowed the program for months. Among them: lost paperwork; an application process with unneeded extra steps; and environmental reviews that slowed the distribution of aid.

“This is pretty much a summary of all of the emotional, heart-wrenching powerful testimony that we’ve heard on the council,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn including Coney Island and heads the committee on recovery and resiliency.

About 6,000 homeowners who initially applied subsequently have withdrawn from the program or become unresponsive, despite efforts by city officials to contact them. The report finds that some gave up seeking assistance out of frustration with the slow pace of assistance.


The report focuses on problems from the early days of the program and says Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s administration has addressed a number of them in recent months.

The administration has taken steps such as eliminating the three-tier priority system that left many homeowners in limbo and announcing plans to hire potentially dozens of additional contractors.


“Many of the initial concerns outlined in the [Department of Investigation] report are ones the de Blasio administration shared when we came into office, and worked to immediately fix as part of the Build It Back overhaul earlier this year,” a Build It Back spokeswoman said.

“We got $640 million out the door within 120 days to help 20,000 families get back into their homes and begin to recover their lives,” said a spokesman for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “No city moved that much money into construction or that many families back into their homes so quickly.”

The report acknowledges that some difficulties with the rebuilding process were caused by requirements issued by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Among other things, the agency requires that each home that receives rebuilding assistance undergo an environmental review.

But the report says the city also created a process that required residents to participate in multiple meetings before any repair work could be done. It cites the example of a homeowner who attended four meetings and received four separate phone calls regarding missed documentation that the homeowner believed had already been submitted. The homeowner called Build It Back 15 times before receiving any benefits.

Some said they had seen significant improvements under the new administration, which the report’s headline criticisms tend to obscure.

“To me it felt like the framing was unfair with an aim of undercutting the good work that the de Blasio administration has done,” said Susannah Dyen, coordinator for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a coalition of community groups. “I think the folks working in Build It Back would say this too, that there is still a lot of work to get done, but my understanding from on the ground is that the application process is going faster, is going smoother.”

To read the full article, visit The Wall Street Journal

Many Homes Rebuilt After Hurricane Sandy Are Likely Headed Back Underwater

By Alexandra Tempus
September 17, 2014 | 2:15 pm

Donna Panebianco’s home on Staten Island was among the many hit when Hurricane Sandy blasted the New York shoreline nearly two years ago. Two floors of her semi-attached Dognan Hills house were inundated and rendered uninhabitable. But despite what she’s heard of the science behind climate change and extreme weather patterns, Panebianco can’t fathom another Sandy happening anytime soon. In her 20 years on the island, she said, there had never been anything like it.

“This wasn’t rainwater,” she told VICE News. “This was not a typical storm.”

A few days after the hurricane, Panebianco applied for funds from New York City’s Build It Back program to repair the damage to her home, where she lives with her now 18-year-old daughter. At about the same time she submitted the paperwork, the New York Times lamented the fact that taxpayer dollars were destined for “putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane.”

While many New Yorkers have recovered post-Sandy and others have moved away, some residents affected by the storm are still struggling, living on the upper floors of their damaged homes and seeking funding to rebuild — often in areas that could be permanently underwater in just a few decades as sea levels continue to rise due to climate change.

Build It Back is one of the programs handing out money to rebuild. The program’s stifling bureaucracy has been frequently criticized for leaving many Sandy victims in limbo, but recently it has claimed new progress. New York mayor Bill de Blasio announced in early September that more than 500 homes had begun construction, and $9 million in rebuilding and repair reimbursement checks had gone to storm victims.

On the surface, those are positive developments. But the city’s renewed energy behind the program seems to ignore a long-term future of higher sea levels and stronger storms. Columbia University scientists estimate that the sea level in New York City will rise five feet by 2100, just 86 years from now. On top of the swelling sea, the International Panel on Climate Change predicts increasingly intense precipitation and storm activity.

When asked whether the recovery effort might be shortsighted, Build It Back director Amy Peterson told VICE News, “These are longstanding communities on the waterfront, generations of homeowners. We want to make sure that the things that we put in place allow these communities to thrive.”

Peterson emphasized that homeowners who saw more than 50 percent damage to their houses are also under a FEMA requirement to elevate them and meet other resiliency standards. New York City spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick also defended Build It Back as one part of the city’s multi-layered approach.

“The nearly 400,000 New Yorkers living in the 100-year floodplain include some of our most vulnerable populations, such as public housing residents,” Spitalnick told VICE News. “In a city as dense and populous as New York, it would simply be illogical to abandon our waterfronts and the people who live there. That’s why the city is rebuilding stronger and more resiliently, with upgraded building codes and improved infrastructure — coupled with a comprehensive citywide resiliency plan — that will better protect our communities.”

Spitalnick added that “structures built under the latest building codes were much safer during Sandy than older structures, proving that smarter coastal development is part of the climate resiliency answer in New York City.”

Not everyone sees it that way. Tom Angotti, a professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College and the author of New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate, told VICE News that private interests often underlie the city’s agenda. He said that the city’s plans “perfectly reflect the inability of government to conceive of any comprehensive long-term solution, especially one that would challenge government to put the resources behind the solution. ‘Rebuilding stronger’ (and ‘smarter’) sounds nice and fair — but in practice who gets to build and who benefits when the money comes from the private sector?”

Angotti believes the private development rush is part of the legacy of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg called New York a “luxury product,” and consistently showed a willingness to surrender the city and its waterfront to big developers with projects such as “SeaPort City,” a proposal to build a high-end neighborhood jutting into the East River in Lower Manhattan.

“The problem is, in all the public discussions, the most logical and humane alternative is never on the table,” Agnotti said. “Government has to intervene in a massive way to make sure that the outcomes are equitable and just and effective.”

But an alternative scenario where communities might plan relocation while slowly transitioning some coastal areas into less risky parkland isn’t an option without big changes to the economic system. This much is obvious to those who have been working on the ground.

Terri Bennett, an Occupy Sandy activist and the co-founder of Respond and Rebuild, a disaster relief collective, believes that relocation could not work with the city’s sky-high real estate prices. Without government intervention to make housing more equitable on a larger scale, relocating people would mean “actually asking them to leave New York City,” she told VICE News.

“The conversation isn’t really about whether or not to redevelop the coastline,” Bennett said. “I think it turns into who gets to redevelop the coastline.”

The de Blasio administration is eager to distance itself from Bloomberg, and the city is now stationing more city officials in storm-ravaged neighborhoods and conducting ongoing local resiliency studies. But the new government sees a responsibility to maintain communities in areas at imminent risk, and is not immune to powerful financial forces encouraging new coastal building. De Blasio himself has a history of courting development, and in the last decade he has backed various controversial waterfront projects against the opposition of environmentalists and community activists.

Susannah Dyen, a coordinator for Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a Sandy relief and recovery coalition, said the difference in community engagement between Bloomberg and de Blasio feels like “night and day.” But she acknowledged the need for a conversation about the harsh longer-term climate consequences in at-risk areas because, as she put it, “no one has the answer yet.”


“I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that the ocean came to my house,” Panebianco, the longtime Staten Island resident, said. “I’m close, but I’m not that close.”

To read the full article, visit VICE.

At Least Some Unions Step Up for Big Climate March!

New York City and key national unions like the Service Employees International Union and Communication Workers of America are stepping up to support the People’s Climate March in NYC September 21, in a broad coalition. But some green radicals from labor groups say unions need to create their own climate protection strategy that democratizes the energy sector.

September 12, 2014

There is a grinding nature to labor solidarity. Having never been active in a union before, I never experienced it until becoming the National Writers Union rep to organizing meetings for the Sept 21 Climate March happening in New York City right before a UN summit. Now I’m feeling it. It’s not enough to get your union on board; has your president signed a statement? It’s not enough to get your local; how about your international? And of course, words are cheap, so how many members are you mobilizing, and how are you doing it? Everyone in the room knows that grunt work feeds whatever power labor has. Astonishing for people who haven’t been watching the labor movement in the last few years, New York’s unions are digging deep to support the march that calls on world leaders to take action to avert catastrophic climate change.


Will unions be part of the problem or part of the solution? The International Trade Union Federation endorsed the march, as has the Canadian Labour Congress and the Connecticut and Vermont labor federations. But in New York, local and state unions are the ones stepping up – including some of the building trades, which, on a national level, help block the AFL-CIO from showing any climate leadership.

Larry Moskowitz, the march’s organizer for unions, exhorted us in the first meetings: “Every union that endorses – what is your turnout plan? What materials do you need? Can you set up an internal committee to mobilize? How do we get in the ranks?”

And then the question: Who’s not in the room yet?

The nurses union was there, its reps eloquently discussing the impact of the massive storm Sandy and environmental hazards on those they care for. To enlist their members, NYS Nurses Association began holding lunch and dinnertime sessions in hospitals about climate change and health. The healthcare workers of the service workers (SEIU 1199), a 200,000-strong union including many immigrants and African Americans, were there. JJ Johnson, its retired spokesman, said at one gathering sponsored by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, a network of 30 unions from 15 countries, “Climate protection is consistent with everything else that we do [as health workers].” And not just because of the devastation of the massive storm Sandy, which laid waste to New York in October 2012. “We have members from all over Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia. There is a growing encroachment of the sea going into agricultural land that would be rendered totally useless for farming. In places like Haiti, where pollution and silt are going out to sea, fisherman have to go out further and further to fish. So the climate issue resonates very strongly.”


Some building trade unions were already primed by Obama’s “green jobs” rhetoric and money to see retrofitting as in their interest. Even before Obama, the Blue-Green Alliance launched by United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club eight years ago promoted good green jobs and emission cuts, broadening the conversation in the union movement.

Blue and Green Ties

In New York City, recent lobbying for a “climate jobs” policy in New York City has intensified blue and green ties. The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding is a labor-community coalition trying to keep the heat on various levels of government to support those whose housing was wrecked in some way by the storm, whether from wind, water or mold, and to ensure that rebuilding happens using union jobs so workers aren’t exploited. Taking the lead is the local Jobs with Justice affiliate ALIGN-NY, which itself started as the affiliate of the Apollo Alliance (now part of the Blue-Green Alliance) which brought green groups together with unions to work toward cleaner energy. Local teamsters began working with environmentalists to campaign for recycling in the commercial waste stream and now endorse the climate march.


When issuing the call for the march in Rolling Stone, founder Bill McKibben even crafted a simple slogan to unite the two movements on a single banner: “Climate/Jobs: Two Crises, One Solution.” The unions put something like that slogan on their flyer promoting the march at the Labor Day parade.

The Blue-Green Alliance (BGA) endorsed the march, as did leading BGA members CWA, ATU and SEIU. But the Steelworkers, among other union affiliates, didn’t. The BGA endorsement is admittedly an advance over its silence on fracking and the XL Pipeline – the BGA lost credibility among many labor environmentalists by not navigating those fights. But is that enough?

Unions like the Laborers, Steelworkers and Pipefitters are caught in the short-run game of defending members’ jobs in dirty industries. As one environmentalist in the labor movement pointed out, the Steelworkers represent the chemical workers producing the toxic brew used to frack natural gas and can’t get beyond the politics of the old energy regime. I’ve heard Steelworkers President Leo Gerard rightly chide environmentalists for not discussing the imperative to employ those displaced if the fossil fuel industry is shut so that carbon discharges stabilize at a livable level. We all need to be committed to a “just transition” that doesn’t leave people behind. Well, Gerard’s green allies earned the right to chide him back.

Green radicals in the labor movement, like Dr. Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and Joe Uehlein of the Labor Network for Sustainability, are calling the question on this old politics. As Sweeney, who also codirect’s Cornell’s Global Labor Program, put it, it’s time to get beyond the call for “green jobs” and what he calls “a light green agenda.” Uehlein asks union leaders like Gerard if mainstream proposals don’t deal with the economic hit workers will take in any transition, what does labor’s climate protection strategy look like? It’s time for labor to have one. With SEIU 1199, SEIU 32B/32J, IBEW Local 3 and the NYS Nurses Association, TUED is holding an open meeting after the march for all unionists and allies to try to seize the moment for a deeper discussion along these lines to accelerate the momentum created by the expanding coalition.

Like the rest of the country, says Sweeney, a lot of unions “don’t recognize the science. The ones that do are unclear about what the changes mean, the enormity of it. I don’t blame them. The politicians don’t talk about it,” he said. “But if we take the science seriously, as we should, then nothing less than an FDR-type intervention is necessary.” And the transformation must happen fast, within the next 20 or 30 years.

What is Energy Democracy?

What does it mean to build a transportation system not powered by fossil fuels? How do we shift the country, really the world, to sustainable energy? What does the “energy democracy” Chris Erikson talked about actually look like? “We believe . . . that unions should be advocating public ownership, social ownership of energy,” says Sweeney. “There’s no other way to do it in my opinion.”


Any deep economic shift protecting people and the planet needs all hands on deck, and that includes union leaders and their members. We know we can’t let union leaders fall back on flowery speeches to hide inaction, as too often happens. It’s up to us to make sure we don’t run out of time.

Build It Back gets back on track

The Sandy home-repair program has begun repairs on 535 homes, exceeding its goal of beginning work on 500 homes by Labor Day.

September 3, 2014

(AP) — A Superstorm Sandy home-repair effort that was criticized for a sluggish start has now begun work on 535 homes, surpassing a goal set to show a turnaround, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

Much more work remains for the Build It Back program—an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 homes are eligible for repairs or reimbursements—but the mayor said the progress so far is “putting Build it Back back on track.”

“Part one was to get this program moving. It had been dead in the water,” he said after an unrelated news conference.

The storm hit in October 2012. Build It Back was created in June 2013, following a more basic repair program that was intended to make homes habitable. Build It Back can do more extensive work, including elevating homes above flood level, at no cost to the homeowner; it also can reimburse owners for repairs they did on their own.

When Mr. de Blasio took office Jan. 1, no households even had complete plans for Build It Back work.

In April, he said the city aimed to start 500 repair projects and send 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day. To get there, the city hired more Build It Back staffers and eliminated income-priority categories that had held up some applications


the city has renegotiated $138 million in Build It Back inspection and case-management contracts down to $77 million, officials said.

Some 543 reimbursement checks totaling over $9 million have now been dispatched. Many repair plans are far enough along that the city now anticipates starting 50 projects a week, city housing recovery chief Amy Peterson said, though no formal benchmark has been established yet.

Some homeowners and their advocates have raised continuing concerns about red tape and the pace of repairs, but housing activists credited the city Tuesday with making strides.

“There is still much work to be done,” said the Rev. Arthur Davenport, a minister at a church in the hard-hit Rockaways and a member of Faith in New York, the organizers of a July community meeting that drew about 1,000 people to discuss Build It Back. “But we applaud the administration for streamlining the process to make sure families are getting the aid they deserve.”

To read the full article, visit Crain’s.

Sandy victims seek faster help from city

By Michael Gannon

July 31, 2014

More than 1,000 people, many of them victims of Hurricane Sandy, attended a meeting Tuesday night between city officials and more than a score of clergy with one demand — to make them whole again.

Faith in New York sponsored what it billed as a Sandy rebuilding summit at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York in Jamaica.

City officials on hand included Public Advocate Letitia James, Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Amy Peterson, who serves as director of the city’s Housing Recovery Office.

Attendees came in buses from churches throughout Queens.

Rabbi Elizabeth Wood of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills was one of the many clerics who addressed city officials on behalf of Sandy victims.

“Sandy destroyed their homes, their jobs and their lives,” Wood said. “We cannot let them struggle alone.”

The Rev. Fulgencio Gutierrez, pastor of St. Mary by the Sea and St. Gertrude in Far Rockaway, pointed out that it has been 20 months since Sandy stormed ashore in October 2012, and that most people who lost their homes still are struggling.

One member of his congregation, Theresa Reyes, said her family continues to struggle while waiting to rebuild.
“We are paying a mortgage in Far Rockaway and rent in Brooklyn,” she said. “It’s hard.”

The city has received approval for more than $4 billion, including nearly $649 million this past spring.

And while Peterson acknowledged that the city has a long way to go, she said she and the de Blasio administration have made gains since coming into office in January.

She said 44 homes in hurricane-affected areas have been completed, 167 have started construction and more than 700 are in the design phase.

“That may not seem like a lot,” Peterson said. “But you have to remember that those numbers were all zero before Jan. 1.”

Two other numbers up from zero since January are the 457 homeowners who have received more than $7 million in reimbursements for repairs they did themselves.


Part of the evening included a presentation from the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, which is seeking to use the state and federal rebuilding money to provide 30,000 jobs for area residents in the construction process and ancillary occupations.

A major part of that would have to be a massive job and career training initiative.

“We propose a robust job and career training infrastructure to assure that local New York City residents do the work of rebuilding our city,” the group said in a statement.

The organization also used the summit as a forum to support a City Council proposal that would ban most employers from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a crime; and to push expanded registration in the city’s new identity card program.

Peterson said the city expects to have a final plan detailing what kinds of jobs will be available through government initiatives, and how many there will be.

Richards said that with so much money involved, the law he got passed last year to track where and how Sandy relief dollars are being spent will offer taxpayers assurance that the money is going where it is intended to go.
“Federal, state or city, they are your tax dollars,” Richards said.

Immediately following the meeting, he elaborated on a plan that would put 1,000 units of affordable housing on land that former homeowners have sold to the government rather than try to rebuild.

Much of that land remains in what the city’s Office of Emergency Management has designated as a level 1 evacuation zone, considered the most vulnerable in the event of another major storm.

“Right now, if you look at the beach and the land, there is nothing protecting the land,” said Richards. “But a complex in Arverne, because of how it is constructed, didn’t flood or lose power. We’ll build dune forests, seawalls, different construction, whatever it takes. We’re going to rebuild. We’re not going to retreat from the shoreline.”

To read the full article, visit the Queens Chronicle.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says Superstorm Sandy Rebuilding is Now on Track

By Jennifer Peltz

July 18, 2014

NEW YORK — An often-criticized initiative to rebuild Superstorm Sandy-damaged homes has started work on more than 130, finished 30 and dispensed more than $6.3 million to reimburse homeowners for reconstruction costs, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

While the 132 homes underway represent just over a quarter of the goal the city has vowed to reach within six weeks, de Blasio said the pace was accelerating, and the city was on track to keep its promise of starting work on 500 homes and sending out 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day. Nearly 400 checks have been sent.

“We are absolutely confident that we will meet that goal,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio set it three months ago, amid widespread frustration with the program, which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June 2013.


As of mid-April, only nine homes were undergoing work. None had been finished.

The city has since made some changes to speed the process, including eliminating income categories that had prevented some applications from moving forward while others were pending.

Tonyelle Jobity, who manages a state-run group home for the mentally disabled, had maxed out her credit cards and emptied her savings account doing what repairs she could to her Brooklyn home after Sandy flooded its basement, de Blasio said. She applied soon after the October 2012 storm for city help, but it came only amid the city’s recent Build It Back push.

On Thursday, seven workers fastened plywood to a leaking part of Jobity’s roof, pausing as de Blasio spoke outside. The city also has reimbursed Jobity for what she spent, de Blasio said.

“She was just ready to give up hope,” said her sister, Cynthia Johnson. “Then this comes along. So it’s a blessing.”

Some 2,500 homeowners have now OK’d a repair plan – 1,500 of them in the past three months – and about 650 of those projects are in the design phase, said Amy Peterson, the head of Build It Back.

Still, the city expects at least 15,000 homes need work done – some of it as substantial as elevating homes to protect against future flooding – and about 750 houses need to be rebuilt completely, Peterson said.

Still, some storm victims’ advocates who had previously lamented the program’s pace credited the city with picking it up.

“We are encouraged by the real progress the de Blasio administration is making on Sandy rebuilding,” said Susannah Dyen, coordinator of the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a citywide group that released a report criticizing Build It Back in January. But “considerable work still needs to be done.”

To read the full article, visit Channel 7 news.

Federal Sandy Funds Fall Short, Officials Say

By Laura Jusisto and Josh Dawsey

May 23, 2014

About $1 Billion May Not Go to New York and New Jersey Region

New York and New Jersey will receive about $2.5 billion of the remaining $3.6 billion of federal rebuilding funds after superstorm Sandy, a government official said Friday.

That sum is less than what local officials say is needed to finish repairing homes and building major infrastructure projects.

Elected officials have advocated that the region should receive the vast majority of the final round of funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, saying billions of dollars of work is still left to be done.

New York City will receive about $994 million, New Jersey will receive about $882 million and New York state will receive about $606 million, according to a government official. Connecticut and Rhode Island will also receive a small share.


New York City officials have said they need $1 billion to finish rebuilding all of the homes hit by Sandy and billions more to complete some of the ambitious resiliency proposals by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including an elevated neighborhood on the east side of lower Manhattan to act as a buffer against future storms.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city plans to spend $640 million on housing and the remaining $354 million on resiliency. She said the city has been able to reallocate additional funds so that all homeowners in the city will get enough money to finish rebuilding or repairing their homes.

Those new funds combined with the federal money “ensures that we’ll be able to provide the support that every homeowner” deserves, Mr. de Blasio said through the spokeswoman.

HUD hasn’t yet made a decision about how to distribute the remaining $1.1 billion, federal officials said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that HUD is considering holding a national resiliency competition to distribute the funding across the country, according to people briefed on the proposal.

A Christie administration official said they were told a fourth round of funding would include a national Rebuild by Design contest and the state would compete for funding.

“That’s lower than what we think New York City needs to fully recover,” said Susannah Dyen, coordinator for the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a coalition of community groups and advocates. Ms. Dyen said the city should advocate for more money from the federal government and use some of its own funds to finish rebuilding.

Congress set aside about $60 billion in 2013 for Sandy aid after a contentious debate. The largest portion—more than $15 billion—went to HUD for distribution to the local level. HUD has allocated about $10.5 billion so far, primarily to New York City, New York state and New Jersey, officials said.

HUD officials have said that spreading the funds around to disasters other than Sandy that occurred in 2011, 2012 or 2013 is required by federal law.

Over the past month, New York and New Jersey politicians objected to that interpretation, saying the funds were intended to be distributed elsewhere only if the needs in the Sandy-affected region were met.

“I will keep working with all federal agencies to ensure New York’s needs continue to be met,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D, N.Y.). A spokesman for New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez declined to comment.

On Friday, President Barack Obama announced that he is nominating San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as the next HUD secretary. The current secretary, Shaun Donovan, a Bloomberg administration alumnus, will be nominated to be the next director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

To read the full article, visit the Wall Street Journal.

Loss of $1B in federal Sandy aid could mean 9500 city homes not rebuilt: report

By Erin Durkin
April 27, 2014

The report from Alliance for a Just Rebuilding estimates that impact of the proposal by Department of Housing and Urban Development to shift $1B or more of the $3.6B left of Sandy aid to a ‘national resiliency competition’ that other states could apply for. Local politician calls idea ‘absolutely outrageous.’

The $1 billion in Sandy aid the feds may yank from New York could mean 9500 city homes don’t get rebuilt, a new report warns.

The advocacy group Alliance for a Just Rebuilding predicts thousands of homeowners could go without needed aid if the city is shut out of further rebuilding cash in a report to be released Monday.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed spending $1 billion or more of the $3.6 billion it still has in Sandy aid on a “national resiliency competition” that other states could apply to instead of sending it straight to the storm-damaged region.

The idea sparked outrage among local lawmakers.


“Every dollar intended for New York City should remain in New York City to ensure that the survivors of Sandy, particularly those on the brink of homelessness and struggling to survive, are not permanently left behind,” the report says.

“Forcing people to compete for sorely needed aid will only further scar and harm families that have been in the grips of despair since the immediate aftermath of Sandy.”

The group is launching an online petition to oppose moving the funding.

“Shifting vital resources away from Sandy victims towards competitions and games is absolutely outrageous,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Sandy recovery committee.

To read the full article, visit New York Daily News.