As New Yorkers continue to rebuild after hurricane sandy, co-op and condo owners find themselves ineligible for FEMA aid, and as a result some are racking up huge bills that they may be forced to pay themselves. Washington bureau reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report.
Warren Schreiber said his Queens co-op complex sustained more than $75,000 in damage when Hurricane Sandy struck the City.
"We had tree limbs that went through the roofs, actually went into people's apartments," Schreiber said.
But due to a quirk in federal law, co-ops and condos just like his can't pay for repairs to common areas by tapping into Federal Emergency Management Agency grants available to the owners of single-family homes.
That's because FEMA considers co-ops and condos business associations, a distinction that makes them eligible for only federal loans.
"That's just wrong," said Rep. Steve Israel, whose district covers parts of Long Island and Queens. "A home is a home. A house is a house. A resident is a resident."
Israel recently sent a letter to FEMA calling on it to change its rules. He said that FEMA told him that only Congress has the power to do that.
The federal government, however, is trying to provide apartment buildings with some relief. Earlier this month, Sen. Charles Schumer said he got the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to let co-ops and condos apply for grants that will be available through the billions of dollars in Hurricane Sandy aid making its way to the city and state.
Israel said that agreement is helpful, but stressed the need to continue working on the issue.
"FEMA has said to us, 'Now that we know that HUD can provide these grant monies, do we really need to continue working on this issue? And my response to FEMA is, 'You bet we need to continue working on this issue,'" Israel said.
Especially because it's unclear how much of that HUD money would be handed out as grants.
The city's plan, which still needs federal approval, would allow co-ops and condos to apply for low or no-interest loans. The money would be handed out as restricted grants only in some cases.
The state's application would, through a competitive process, distribute grants to buildings outside the city.
All of this is another reason why co-op and condo owners want FEMA to treat them like any other homeowner.