The city post-Hurricane Sandy recovery program “Build it Back” is doing anything but, according to many residents, civic leaders and officials in South Queens. They say the program needs to be completely revamped and needs to be placed on top of Mayor de Blasio’s priority list.
The Build it Back program was created last June to help residents whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Sandy get access to relief money, contractors needed to help rebuild or funds to acquire homes of homeowners who wish to move.
Residents have complained about slow responses, lost paperwork and terrible communication within the program, while some are still waiting for money promised.
Dan Mundy Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association, said the program has been a complete disaster.
“We have heard a lot of complaints, missed appointments, lost paperwork, that kind of thing,” Mundy said.
Jean Ferrera-Rodriguez, whose home in Hamilton Beach was still without a kitchen or living room last month, said in December she couldn’t move forward with work on her home without some funds promised from Build it Back, but the program had not been in contact for a while.
Rudy S. Giuliani, spokesman for Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), said Build it Back issues account for around 90 percent of all constituent calls from the Rockaway portion of the district.
“There are so many issues but probably most egregious is not calling people for months and losing paperwork,” he said. “How your priority is figured out is also a mess.”
Many say the problem with the program is communication and not logistics. Much of the problem involves long waits for callbacks, missed appointments and misinformation, such as residents coming to centers to fill out paperwork, but are not told what types of identification to bring.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) met with a representative from Build it Back and the mayor’s office in his Rockaway office with local civic leaders, including Mundy, and Build it Back representatives to discuss the issue earlier this month.
Mundy credited Build it Back’s program director, Kathryn Mallon, for working to fix the problems with the program. Mundy said among the things that were discussed were changing the priority list so that those in most need, including residents who are not in their homes, are moved to the top of the list. He also credited Borough President Melinda Katz’s office for stepping in.
“I believe we’re making progress,” Mundy said. “By no means will I say that this is a system that has all its flaws worked out”
One of the major issues he noted was that the program was unable to move forward with helping residents raise their homes because the federal funds for those projects were not being allocated until next year.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but a source close to the administration said de Blasio is seeking to “engage the communities to find ways to make the program work.”
He added that other issues have dominated the new mayor’s attention since he took office last month.
“As you can imagine, there’s a lot for [de Blasio] to digest,” the source said, noting the snowstorms, budget and pre-K push has occupied much of the new administration’s time. “It’s one of those situations where he’s got 10,000 things coming at it him at once and everything needs to be a priority. Build it Back is something he’s dedicated to.”
Goldfeder had hoped that the new mayor would make the program work better.
“De Blasio walked into the middle of a complicated program,” he said. “I am confident that they’re engaged on the issue and will work to address the problem.”
But some residents aren’t so patient.
“He needs to move it to the top of the list,” said one Howard Beach resident who did not want to be identified, but said she has complained about the program several times. “I know the mayor has his own agenda, but this needs to be a priority.”