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Clock Ticking on de Blasio’s Sandy Recovery Plan

Now is the crucial moment for Mayor Bill de Blasio to follow through on his promise to address the needs of Superstorm Sandy survivors.

By Hugh Hogan and Nathalie Alegre
March 24, 2014

During his mayoral campaign, Bill de Blasio promised to address the unmet needs of Superstorm Sandy survivors in the Rockaways, Staten Island and other parts of the city. Low-income homeowners, renters, public housing residents and undocumented immigrants in many communities are still reeling from effects of the natural disaster.

Now is a crucial moment for Mayor de Blasio to follow through on that promise.

Today, City Hall will submit its official application for the next installment of HUD’s Sandy recovery funds. This plan will serve as the blue-print for New York City’s Sandy response, and how government agencies will invest a total $3.2 billion.

De Blasio should ensure that Sandy rebuilding reduces inequality instead of perpetuating it.

Here’s how he can do that.

The city’s action plan can fund local workforce training and jobs for residents in neighborhoods struggling the most to rebuild. It can also invest in truly affordable housing so that residents displaced by the storm can return back home. At a time of rising poverty and income disparities, these decisions should be prioritized by a mayor who vowed to leave no New Yorker behind.

Something else that hard-hit residents are eager to see is the re-opening of the Build It Back program so that homeowners and renters receive the assistance they need and deserve. The re-opening should be coupled with targeted outreach to low-income renters so that the city has an accurate assessment of the remaining need for this population.

Other Sandy-related housing policies should focus on allocating more funds for rental assistance, mold remediation and fast-tracked repairs in public housing developments, and requiring landlords who receive disaster recovery aid to maintain deep affordability in their rental units.

New York City can become the national model for how to use disaster recovery as a tool and an opportunity to tackle and mitigate the inequities exposed by storms like Sandy.

The rebuilding process will create lots of jobs. City government should create a clear and measurable process for recruiting construction workers, training local residents and selecting local contractors who will pay fair wages to their employees. The city will also have to contend with wide swaths of vacant land left behind by Sandy. To ensure neighborhoods remain vibrant and affordable, de Blasio can pursue bold, creative solutions–like setting up community land trusts and leveraging federal Sandy funds with tax credits to finance construction of affordable housing in publicly-owned land.

It’s a little-known and overlooked fact that the federal government actually requires 30 percent of new hires in disaster recovery and rebuilding projects to be low-income residents or public housing residents, and that at least 50 percent of funds benefit low and moderate income people.

But the enforcement of these guidelines is up to City Hall.

Implementing a Sandy rebuilding agenda that reduces inequality will require bold leadership.

De Blasio can’t do it alone.

That’s why he should assign a high-level official to lead the rebuilding and recovery effort.

This official should have direct access to the Mayor and the power to make change happen.

To read the full article, visit City and State.