The recent announcement of a grant meant to help co-op and condo owners affected by Hurricane Sandy has been met with gratitude and caution. It’s needed help, but there’s still work left to be done.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will give Community Development Block Grants Disaster Recovery funding to co-ops and condos affected by the storm.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was among those who gladly greeted the HUD grants.
“We have finally cleared a bureaucratic hurdle that prevented thousands of homeowners in New York City and Long Island from getting the help they needed,” said Schumer in a statement. “We have always said that condos and co-ops should be eligible for the same assistance as single-family homes, and now they are.”
The offer came after the homeowner collectives of Northeast Queens, joined by elected officials, decried the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s refusal to provide recovery grants to co-ops and condos affected by Hurricane Sandy — the same kind that has been offered to individual homeowners.
“It’s kind of a bandage approach,” said Warren Schrieber, co-president of the Presidents Co-op & Condo Council. “They’re saying, ‘we’ll throw them a bone so they’ll be quiet. “We’re not going to be quiet. This wasn’t the solution we were looking for.”
The guidelines behind who does and doesn’t get FEMA aid are dictated by the Stafford Act, which does not contain specific provisions for co-ops and condos. As a result, FEMA considers them commercial entities, leaving them ineligible for grants aimed at helping homeowners get back on their feet. FEMA cites co-ops and condos as carrying a “master policy,” essentially equating them with businesses.
This misconception can be traced back to the relatively unique stature of co-ops and condos as something as New York as hot dog stands and yellow cabs.
The HUD grant becomes available to communities in need of resources following a presidentially-declared disaster. Unlike FEMA funding, it is competitive. It is not, however, a suitable substitute, some said.
“It’s a good first step, but until we get FEMA to define co-ops the same way they define any other residence, it’s not a complete solution,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Queens, LI).
The congressman said he spent a good portion of his Presidential Inauguration luncheon discussing the problem with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Lawmakers at the local level also welcomed the HUD grants, but hoped it’s not the end of the federal aid.
“We’re happy that a grant is out there,” said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens, who founded the City Council’s Co-ops and Condos Caucus. “We don’t want to take our eye off the prize though, which is to make sure that FEMA changes their rules on whether co-ops should be counted as housing.”
Schumer focused on ensuring funding for the HUD grant program when the Sandy Relief Bill was navigating Congress. New York State and City are eligible for approximately $3.5 billion of an initial $5.4 billion.
“Co-op and condo owners deserved the same relief that private homeowners received, and this decision helps accomplish that basic fairness,” Schumer said, later adding “This funding, which was created by congress, is a lifeline for countless co-op and condo owners who were hammered by Superstorm Sandy, but had nowhere to turn to for help due to poorly crafted FEMA rules. I will continue to press FEMA at every turn to change their disaster relief rules so that co-op and condo owners get access to aid they need and deserve.”
The senator and congressman both promised to continue the fight for FEMA funding.
“We’re going to continue putting maximum pressure on FEMA to support new legislation that would change the definition of co-ops and allow disaster assistance,” Israel said.