Howard Beach Tour Reveals Build It Back Difficulties

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

A tour of Howard Beach homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy revealed that there is much more work that needs to be done.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) led Build It Back’s Housing Recovery Office Director, Amy Peterson, and senior adviser for Recovery, Resiliency and Infrastructure, Bill Goldstein, on a tour of some of the neighborhood’s “toughest cases.”

Andrea Mercatante has struggled to get reimbursement from Build It Back. Photo by Joe Marvilli

Andrea Mercatante has struggled to get reimbursement from Build It Back. Photo by Joe Marvilli

One of those cases is Andrea Mercatante’s home. Located just blocks from Old Mill Creek, the lower portion of her house was inundated with water. After the damage threw her finances into disarray, Mercatante had to deal with a confusing, contradictory Build It Back program that threw roadblock after roadblock on her path to be reimbursed for the repair work she did.

Mercatante said that she was told that elevation would not be required during her initial assessments. However, when she brought all of her paperwork into her most recent meeting, the Build It Back representative told her otherwise.

“On those papers, the gentleman I spoke to told me my house had to be elevated. I said, ‘But on your own paperwork there, it says, house elevation: no.’ So who’s right?” she asked.

Peterson agreed that there was a great deal of confusion and promised to look into whether Mercatante would need to elevate her house or not.

“Some of it certainly seems to be inconsistent,” she said.

Mercatante was also frustrated about a loan she denied showing up on her assessment as a deduction from what she would receive. Peterson explained that a process Build It Back has to work through with the federal government led to the deduction appearing. Once Mercatante talks to a representative in person about why she denied the loan, Peterson added, the deduction will be removed.

“There’ve been a lot of things, including our not-great program implementation, that have led us to the point we’re at now. We’re clearing up those things,” Peterson said.

While she was appreciative for the help, Mercatante added that the process has been extremely draining and more difficult than it should have been.

“Every step of the way it’s been a fight. My friends say ‘I don’t know why you don’t just stop.’ I can’t afford to stop,” she said.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.