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Queens Chronicle

Sandy victims seek faster help from city

Meeting with residents, Queens clergy outlines progress and plans

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Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:53 am, Thu Aug 7, 2014.

More than 1,000 people, many of them victims of Hurricane Sandy, attended a meeting Tuesday night between city officials and more than a score of clergy with one demand — to make them whole again.

Faith in New York sponsored what it billed as a Sandy rebuilding summit at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York in Jamaica.

City officials on hand included Public Advocate Letitia James, Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Amy Peterson, who serves as director of the city’s Housing Recovery Office.

Attendees came in buses from churches throughout Queens.

Rabbi Elizabeth Wood of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills was one of the many clerics who addressed city officials on behalf of Sandy victims.

“Sandy destroyed their homes, their jobs and their lives,” Wood said. “We cannot let them struggle alone.”

The Rev. Fulgencio Gutierrez, pastor of St. Mary by the Sea and St. Gertrude in Far Rockaway, pointed out that it has been 20 months since Sandy stormed ashore in October 2012, and that most people who lost their homes still are struggling.

One member of his congregation, Theresa Reyes, said her family continues to struggle while waiting to rebuild.

“We are paying a mortgage in Far Rockaway and rent in Brooklyn,” she said. “It’s hard.”

The city has received approval for more than $4 billion, including nearly $649 million this past spring.

And while Peterson acknowledged that the city has a long way to go, she said she and the de Blasio administration have made gains since coming into office in January.

She said 44 homes in hurricane-affected areas have been completed, 167 have started construction and more than 700 are in the design phase.

“That may not seem like a lot,” Peterson said. “But you have to remember that those numbers were all zero before Jan. 1.”

Two other numbers up from zero since January are the 457 homeowners who have received more than $7 million in reimbursements for repairs they did themselves.

Richards said he believes residents in the Rockaways, Rosedale and other places hammered by Sandy have a mayor in de Blasio who is interested in being a partner in the recovery effort.

Part of the evening included a presentation from the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, which is seeking to use the state and federal rebuilding money to provide 30,000 jobs for area residents in the construction process and ancillary occupations.

A major part of that would have to be a massive job and career training initiative.

“We propose a robust job and career training infrastructure to assure that local New York City residents do the work of rebuilding our city,” the group said in a statement.

The organization also used the summit as a forum to support a City Council proposal that would ban most employers from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a crime; and to push expanded registration in the city’s new identity card program.

Peterson said the city expects to have a final plan detailing what kinds of jobs will be available through government initiatives, and how many there will be.

Richards said that with so much money involved, the law he got passed last year to track where and how Sandy relief dollars are being spent will offer taxpayers assurance that the money is going where it is intended to go.

“Federal, state or city, they are your tax dollars,” Richards said.

Immediately following the meeting, he elaborated on a plan that would put 1,000 units of affordable housing on land that former homeowners have sold to the government rather than try to rebuild.

Much of that land remains in what the city’s Office of Emergency Management has designated as a level 1 evacuation zone, considered the most vulnerable in the event of another major storm.

“Right now, if you look at the beach and the land, there is nothing protecting the land,” said Richards. “But a complex in Arverne, because of how it is constructed, didn’t flood or lose power. We’ll build dune forests, seawalls, different construction, whatever it takes. We’re going to rebuild. We’re not going to retreat from the shoreline.”

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