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Queens Chronicle

Failures and fixes for Build it Back

New head of recovery program sees more than 300 residents at civic

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

Tom Marco, a 37-year resident of Howard Beach, is upset and frustrated with the city’s Build it Back program. His 163rd Avenue home was flooded by over 3 feet of water by Superstorm Sandy 18 months ago and he has yet to receive any reimbursement under the program for his out-of-pocket costs to repair his house.

“We’re not getting any help,” Marco said, adding that it was a waste of time to file the required paperwork, noting that the representatives were constantly changing the rules.

Build it Back was created by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg to help New Yorkers repair, rebuild and elevate their homes.

Marco was one of the more than 300 unhappy Howard Beach residents who attended the Howard Beach/Lindenwood Civic Town Hall Meeting at the St. Helen School cafeteria Tuesday evening to express their frustrations about the program to its new administrator, Amy Peterson, and their elected representatives.

June Scafo of Old Howard Beach, whose home was inundated with 8 feet of water, is also waiting for the funds she needs to fix her house. She said that Build it Back representatives told her that she was approved for the money for the repairs and last January sent 18 tradesmen to look at the damage.

“Haven’t heard from them since,” said Scafo.

A resident who did not give her name said she has been out of her home since Sandy. She noted that she had filed the required paperwork and was told she would be required to elevate her home before she could move in.

“I’m ready to elevate, I can’t wait any longer for you to come,” she said, adding, “I can’t keep waiting, I want to go home.”

Peterson acknowledged to the audience that 18 months after the storm, “It is very clear that the program has not been working the way it needs to work.

“We should be farther along than we are,” she said, adding, “But we are taking really proactive steps.”

She told the audience that residents should be seeing transformations in Build it Back soon. “It’s not going to happen overnight, [but] it’s going to happen quickly and really start,” Peterson said.

She assured the residents that anyone’s home that was destroyed will be built back regardless of income level.

She also said that priority levels for reimbursement had been eliminated.

Residents will also have the ability to choose their own contractor to perform the repair or rebuilding of their home, she said.

And relief will be offered from water bills for vacant homes.

According to Peterson, if a home was substantially damaged and the homeowner is interested in relocating, the city has an acquisition for redevelopment program.

Peterson said the city is committed to the goal of 500 construction starts and 500 reimbursement checks issued by the end of the summer.

In other business, meeting attendees also got an update from Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, commanding officer of the 106th Precinct.

Schiff told the audience that since March 26 there have been no reported burglaries and robberies in the community. “We have corrected the condition for now,” he said.

The deputy inspector said there is still a police presence in the area including anti-crime and plainclothes officers.

He said that many more residents have activated their alarms as confirmed by a 38 percent increase in alarm trips from last year. “I’d rather respond to an accidental trip and make sure that everything is OK,” said Schiff.

Schiff said crime in the 106th Precinct is down 20 percent for the most recent 28-day period compared to last year. He added that burglaries are down 55 percent for the month.

Discussing the precinct’s response to the community’s concern about squatters at 162-38 90 St. in Howard Beach, he said officers had responded right away and taken the individuals out of the house. He said they were arrested and given summonses.

“We warned these individuals that next time you break in there will be much more serious charges,” Schiff said.

Schiff said that the bank that owns the property was contacted and chains were put on the doors.

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