Nearly 16 months after Hurricane Sandy tore through the region, not a single home has been rebuilt under a city-administered program known as Build It Back.
The program administers federal Community Development Block Grant money that was sent to dozens of municipalities in the wake of the devastating storm. Unlike other cities, New York was initially loath to designate any of that money to individual homeowners, concerned that fraud could swamp the program.
But the city had created a precedent in helping homeowners by launching a program following the storm called Rapid Repairs. In an unprecedented move, thousands of city-hired and city-paid carpenters, plumbers, and electricians were dispatched to homes to get them back up and running. While the program understandably had its share of hiccups, it also had plenty of success stories. In the Rockaways – where I live – I know many people who have had good experiences with Rapid Repairs, even if the work was hardly rapid.
But at least 20,000 homeowners didn't enroll in Rapid Repairs, doing the work themselves or hiring contractors – or running out of money in the interim. With some prodding from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, the city agreed to designate a very large pot of federal money to help New Yorkers "Build it Back."
To avoid fraud and to help the neediest residents, the program created an arduous application process where residents have to bring reams of paperwork and then sit down with a caseworker who would file their grant application with the city. It's something I sat through in early August – and like thousands of other New Yorkers, I haven't heard back from the city since.
Talking to residents in the neighboring Long Island town of Long Beach, I'm amazed at how much quicker things have gone in rebuilding there. The federal Community Block Grant money has been sent to many residents; the boardwalk – which was razed by the hurricane – has been rebuilt. Meanwhile, here in Queens, we're dragging our feet as the clock slowly ticks and we talk about a new boardwalk not being complete until 2017.
Mayor de Blasio was on Staten Island yesterday, meeting with residents and learning about another tale of two cities, one that was largely unaffected by the hurricane and another that's still trying to get back on its feet. As he marches in the St. Patrick's Day parade in the Rockaways this Saturday, it's something for Hizzoner to remember.