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Queens Chronicle

$1.77 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid to go to home, business repair

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:11 am, Thu Apr 4, 2013.

Mayor Bloomberg announced last week his administration’s specific plans for some of the $1.77 billion in federal aid money for Hurricane Sandy.

The city released its proposal — Partial Action Plan A — aimed at helping homeowners and businesses recover beyond what was given to them as aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and homeowner insurance.

The plan for the $1.77 billion allocated from the federal government for Hurricane Sandy relief includes $720 million for housing recovery, $325 million for business recovery and $400 million for infrastructure.

In Partial Action Plan A, the city will use the federal money to redevelop devastated communities along the coast and assist renters needing assistance and some homeowners in the process of rebuilding with supplemental funds beyond what was already available to them through FEMA, insurance and personal savings.

“The idea is to make people whole again,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park).

As part of Partial Action Plan A, the city will consider acquiring properties to develop a home or cluster of homes for residents who have damaged houses, but do not want to leave. The city will use the money to purchase properties at post-Sandy market values and redevelop the property. The city may assist homeowners who are temporarily relocated by redevelopment work in certain circumstances.

In some areas, the city will focus the money on redevelopment measures aimed at bringing homes or buildings up to code after the storm.

In limited cases, the city will use some of the $720 million dedicated to housing recovery to make up any differences in cost homeowners have after insurance and FEMA money.

Bloomberg also announced that the city was seeking to create a rental assistance program for renters who have been displaced by the hurricane. Under the program, the city will help households find affordable apartments. They will be responsible for renting costs up to 30 percent of income. For anything more, the city will use the funds to make up the difference.

Part of the action plan includes referring homeowners who wish to take part in the state buyout plan to the appropriate state agencies. Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo announced the state would seek to buy out properties near the coast if homeowners should choose to leave rather than rebuild. The land will then be used to be developed into parkland or leave it undeveloped.

The action plan also includes help for businesses damaged in the storm. Three hundred twenty-five million of the $1.77 billion allocated will be put toward business recovery projects, including loans, grants and programs aimed at helping businesses prepare for future disasters.

Another $400 million will go toward infrastructure repair, while $327 million will be put toward “resiliency investments,” which Bloomberg said would be detailed in a future action plan.

The plan will only go into effect after a two-week public comment period that began this week and ends on April 4. Those interested in commenting on the plan or suggesting ideas can read the entire proposal and submit their comments at nyc.gov/html/cdbg/html/home/home.shtml.

Bloomberg said he hopes to have the funds dispersed starting in late May, early June.

The funding will be allocated through the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief program and administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But if you’ve already paid for reconstruction work for your home, you would not qualify for the grants. HUD, the federal agency allocating the money, will not use any funds to reimburse costs for rebuilding efforts that have already been done.

Goldfeder said it is possible HUD could decide to use some of the money for reimbursements, but the Bloomberg administration would have to pressure it to change that rule.

“The city has to make the case to HUD,” he said, adding it was a request citizens can make during the public comment period.

The announcement came after Bloomberg called an end to the city’s Rapid Repair campaign, which began a month after Sandy and sought to make important fixes, such as installing heat and electrical systems, in damaged homes so residents can get to live in the house while permanent repairs are made.

“In the four months since it launched, Rapid Repairs has restored essential services to more than 20,000 residences, allowing nearly 54,000 New Yorkers to return to their homes where real recovery can begin,” he said

Bloomberg heralded the program as “a new model for disaster recovery that we proved can work.”

But it was not without its problems. Early on, a number of homeowners who scheduled work with Rapid Repairs complained of broken appointments and delayed construction.

The program went through some reorganization in January. Among the problems that were fixed was the fact that contractors would be assigned to jobs far away from each other — such as one in Staten Island and another in Rockaway the same day.

City records show Rapid Repairs did a vast majority of its projects in January, going from 3,000 buildings repaired on Jan. 1 to 9,000 at the end of the month.

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