De Blasio Administration Marks Significant Progress on Sandy Recovery, Announces Additional Improvements To Streamline Relief For Homeowners And Small Businesses

July 17, 2014

Video available at: http://youtu.be/ZbVG-G8h6f4

Following Build It Back overhaul, construction underway and reimbursement checks sent for hundreds of homeowners

Mayor de Blasio: ‘This is only the beginning—we are committed to getting every New Yorker the help they need to rebuild’

NEW YORK—Standing outside a home being repaired by the Build It Back program, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced significant progress in the City’s Hurricane Sandy recovery work as a result of the major overhaul earlier this year.

When the de Blasio administration came into office, Build It Back applicants were stalled in the intake process. Not only were there no construction starts or reimbursement checks sent as of December 31—not a single homeowner had completed a design consultation.

The administration made a number of immediate changes, while also undertaking a comprehensive review of the program and appointed a new leadership team that includes Bill Goldstein as Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Recovery, Resiliency, and Infrastructure and Amy Peterson as the Director of the Housing Recovery Office. In April, Mayor de Blasio released a comprehensive report, “One City, Rebuilding Together,” and announced sweeping changes to the Build It Back program.

As a result of those changes, as of this week, Build It Back has started construction on 132 homes—30 of which are complete—and issued 397 reimbursement checks totaling over $6.37 million, on track to meet the Mayor’s goal of 500 construction starts and 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day. Build It Back has also scheduled another 55 constructions starts, including the first home elevations and Choose-Your-Own-Contractor starts, marking progress on all program tracks. These numbers will continue to increase on an exponential basis, as Build It Back adds even more capacity.

“Relief can’t come fast enough for homeowners and small business owners who have already waited too long—which is why we’ve made getting our Sandy recovery programs on track a top priority,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Now, as a result of the overhaul we implemented earlier this year, hammers are hitting nails and reimbursement checks are being cashed. This is just a start, and we are committed to getting every New Yorker the help they need to rebuild.”

“It is exciting to be standing here today and see the physical results of all of the hard work that has gone into revamping the Build It Back program. We still have a lot more to accomplish, but this is a great beginning,” said Bill Goldstein, Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Recovery, Resiliency, and Infrastructure.

“For too long, homeowners were told no. Now, Build It Back is focused on getting homeowners to yes—and we’re starting to see the results. From the overhaul earlier this year, to these changes that will further expedite and streamline construction and checks, we’re getting Build It Back back on track, so that homeowners get the relief they deserve,” said Amy Peterson, Director of the City’s Housing Recovery Office.

Today, Mayor de Blasio provided an update on the program and announced additional changes being made to further improve the recovery process.

Following the April report, the City has already:

  • Expanded eligibility and eliminated priority levels, so that every homeowner—regardless of income—is able to immediately move forward.
  • Streamlined the pre-construction process by:
    • Putting senior Build It Back staff directly in the centers to provide direct management, creating a quicker and more effective review and option selection process for homeowners.
    • Increasing Build It Back staff to ensure more effective delivery of services.
    • Adding 44 new staff to the Department of Buildings, including 21 inspectors, all specifically dedicated to the Build It Back program.
  • Provided direct financial relief to homeowners by:
    • Passing state and City legislation to provide property tax relief to homeowners that rebuilt after Sandy.
    • Passing City legislation to waive Department of Building fees for Build It Back projects.
    • Providing relief from New York City water bills for homes that have been vacant since Hurricane Sandy.
    • Expanding rental assistance to serve undocumented New Yorkers who were displaced from their homes by Sandy, in collaboration with the American Red Cross.
    • Allowing homeowners rebuilding their homes to use their “transfer amounts” for temporary relocation expenses during construction.
  • Focused on engaging local communities in the rebuilding process by:
    • Supporting a high-quality, local workforce with a focus on hiring New Yorkers impacted by Hurricane Sandy. For example, four workers on the construction site today are New York City residents from Sandy-impacted neighborhoods, such as the Rockaways and Howard Beach.
    • Embedding Build It Back staff in communities, including at elected officials’ offices, to create additional access points for homeowners and troubleshoot any issues.
    • Involving community-based organizations in providing direct aid to homeowners.
  • Improved communications with homeowners by:
    • Launching a new web portal that allows homeowners to track their status in real time, including by submitting paperwork.
    • Releasing clear, comprehensive materials, such as a new user-friendly guidebook and a revamped website at nyc.gov/recovery.

Mayor de Blasio and the Sandy recovery team also announced additional steps already underway, aimed at further streamlining the recovery process, including:

  • Changes in Build It Back Center operations, such as:
    • Continuing to place senior Build It Back staff in the Centers to directly manage day-to-day operations and troubleshoot.
    • Placing Department of Building staff and design and construction resources at Centers, creating a one-stop-shop for homeowners.
    • A focus on working with homeowners to select an option—resulting in more than 2,500 Option Selection Agreements signed since January.
    • Hiring a Deputy Director for Homeowner Services to prioritize customer service and ensure homeowners receive the support they need.
    • Partnering with Disaster Case Managers, including through joint trainings.
  • Expanding options for homeowners, including:
    • Creating significant progress on all pathways, including rebuilds, repairs, Choose-Your-Own-Contractor, and elevation.
    • Allowing Choose-Your-Own-Contractor and Designer for homeowners in the elevation and rebuild pathways.

For more information on the City’s housing recovery program, call the Build It Back Customer Service hotline at 212-615-8329, or visit www.nyc.gov/recovery.

The City also worked with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to make changes to the Hurricane Sandy Business Loan and Grant Program (HSBLGP), based on feedback from impacted small businesses. These changes will provide more grants to eligible businesses and make approval guidelines more flexible:

  • Making grants of up to $100,000 based on unmet need available for businesses without requiring a loan. Eligible applicants demonstrating severe unmet need and the ability to repay a loan can access up to $1.1 million in grant-only funds.
  • Removing caps on the loans and grants made available to each business; businesses can now qualify for matching loan and grant awards to meet their full unmet need.
  • Applicants with unmet need greater than $1.1 million will receive matching loans and grants, without a cap on the loan amount. Loans have a 1 percent interest rate and must be repaid in five years.
  • Increasing resources to help speed up the application process and provide additional technical assistance. 
  • Improving outreach to impacted neighborhoods throughout the City by developing outreach materials, collaborating with elected officials and community groups, and conducting on-the-ground canvassing.
  • The Department of Small Business Services has also made internal changes to help improve efficiency, expedite processing, and adjust the program to better address business needs.

SBS will be reassessing reviewed applications in light of program changes to determine whether they qualify for more loan and grant funding as a result of the program changes.

The changes to the program must still comply with federal guidelines which require businesses to demonstrate that they have remaining need after accounting for all other assistance received since the storm. NYC Business Solutions Account Managers are available to help answer questions and guide businesses through the application process.

For more information on the City’s business recovery program, call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/nycbusiness.

“The Department of Small Business Services has heard the needs of small businesses throughout the city that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and we worked with our federal partners at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make changes to the Hurricane Sandy Loan and Grant Program that will provide more grants to impacted businesses, make approval guidelines more flexible, expedite processing, and increase technical assistance for businesses,” said Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “Given the changes to the program, we will assess both reviewed and new applications to ensure eligible businesses get the relief they need. There is much more to be done, but we will continue to prioritize the fast and efficient delivery of assistance to affected businesses.”

“One small step rebuilding a home is one giant leap toward rebuilding our city from Superstorm Sandy. Brooklyn communities stretching from Red Hook to Canarsie have been living an interminable nightmare, facing constant obstacles as they seek to bring back their homes and businesses—while fearing the next hurricane that could erase the progress they have made thus far. Today, we are turning the tide toward getting Brooklynites the help they have been owed and deserve, help that will allow us to fully recover and to focus on the important resiliency work to come for our waterfront,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.

“Sandy was an unprecedented storm and continues to require an unprecedented amount of cooperation between all levels of government to move the recovery forward. I am pleased that Mayor de Blasio’s administration has pledged to take ownership of this recovery, until every victim and impacted community is made whole again. Coupled with aggressive Council oversight, we have seen progress made by this administration and an understanding of how urgent this work is on behalf of impacted property owners, renters, small businesses, and communities. We will continue this productive cooperation until the recovery is complete,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.

“This administration made a commitment that they would really build-it-back, and they have started to make good on that promise,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “While we still have a long way to go, today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction.”

“The post-storm work that remains in many of our communities is extensive, and requires government backing and support. The Mayor’s latest action on post-Sandy recovery highlights the urgent need for programs for Sandy impacted communities that uplift homeowners and small businesses. I am encouraged by the de Blasio administration’s effort to lift the red tape and design loan and grant programs that work for our neighborhoods,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

“This update from Mayor de Blasio and his team is hopeful news for the thousands of Sandy survivors we minister to, who are still struggling to rebuild their lives, and is consistent with his pledge to reduce inequality through the rebuilding process,” said Father Fulgencio Gutierrez, Faith in New York & Pastor of St. Mary / St. Gertrude Church in Far Rockaway. “While there is still a long way to go, Mayor de Blasio’s focus on helping those who are struggling the most will make our city more resilient in the long-term: immigrants, low-income homeowners, and those seeking dignified job opportunities. We’re especially encouraged by Amy Peterson’s initial progress toward supporting a high-quality, local workforce to rebuild their city. Too many Sandy survivors were struggling to find decent work even before the storm, and could have their lives transformed by these efforts to rebuild homes and create good, local jobs in the process.”

pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov

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