BY LUIS GRONDA
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a major overhaul of the City’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy last week, including several ideas to provide relief for homeowners and businesses still trying to rebuild more than a year after the storm hit.
Since beginning his first term as mayor, de Blasio said he would make the City’s recovery process a priority.
He did not bring back many of the people who ran the Build It Back program under the Bloomberg administration, which was a signal that the Mayor was planning on changes to the Sandy Strategy under his watch.
He did not name a new head of Sandy recovery until late March, appointing Amy Peterson as the director of the Housing Recovery Office, Daniel Zarrilli leading the Office of Recovery and Resiliency and Bill Goldstein as a senior adviser for recovery, resiliency and infrastructure.
The Mayor and his new team were tasked with drafting a new plan that would aim at speeding the recovery process for many homeowners and improve many problems residents had with the Build It Back program.
De Blasio’s plan calls for issuing 500 reimbursement checks and beginning construction to 500 damaged or destroyed properties by the end of this summer. Other parts of the plan include enhancing coordination between City, State and federal entities to provide additional relief for people displaced from their home and expanding eligibility for the Hurricane Sandy Business Recovery Loan and Grant Program.
During a press conference announcing the plan, de Blasio said the City will build back stronger, despite any challenges that may arise during the process.
“This report gives us a game plan, a road map going forward. We know the will is there. We know the resources are there. It’s about applying all of our abilities and our focus to getting it done, with a lot of partners we know will be great teammates in serving people in need,” he said last Thursday.
Some local community leaders who read through the plan say it is a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen how much faster and better the new plan will be until it is implemented.
Betty Braton, Chairperson of Community Board 10, which represents two areas in southern Queens hit hardest by Sandy, Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach, said there were many problems with how the program was organized. She said she hopes the Mayor’s plan will fix errors associated with it, including streamlining the paperwork process for homeowners applying for relief. Braton said she is looking to see how it will be enforced.
“My concern is how does it move from the aspirational to the reality,” she said. “It’s a question of what is going to be done.”
Roger Gendron, president of the New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, said their goal of 500 reimbursement checks and construction starts is too low considering the number of people affected by the storm and he also wants to see the plan in action.
“Until you see the work being done, it’s all talk, which is what Build It Back has been from day one,” he said. “But it is progress and that’s something we haven’t seen before.”
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.