Mayor de Blasio appointed a new senior leadership team to oversee and execute the city’s recovery and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and announced new plans to improve much-needed relief delivery to those recovering from the devastating impact of the storm.
Bill Goldstein, who most recently oversaw capital projects for the MTA, will serve as senior advisor to the mayor for recovery, resiliency and infrastructure.
In his new capacity, Goldstein will serve as City Hall’s lead on the planning and execution of New York City’s broader infrastructure efforts, including oversight of the newly created Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which will provide overall coordination of the city’s entire federally funded rebuilding and resiliency efforts.
The new team also includes Amy Peterson, an engineer who worked on the city’s recovery following 9/11, as director of the Housing Recovery Office, and Daniel Zarrilli, who worked on resiliency in the Bloomberg administration, will serve as director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency.
The mayor announced the appointments Saturday in Rockaway alongside Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other elected officials. The announcement came two days before the City Council held a hearing on Sandy recovery.
“Since Day One, my administration has prioritized the fast and efficient delivery of relief to affected families, and now we begin to see results,” said de Blasio. “Construction has started, the first checks are on the way, and we are making immediate policy and staff changes to further expedite and streamline the process so that New Yorkers get the help they need now.”
De Blasio also announced changes to streamline the much-maligned Build it Back program, which has been besot with red tape and bad communication between officials and residents.
As of March 1, not one house had been fixed through Build it Back, despite nearly 20,000 applicants and only 1.4 percent of the $648 million allocated to the program had been spent. Residents who signed up for the program have complained about missed appointments, lost paperwork and misinformation on what documents were needed to sign up, which often forced residents to make multiple visits to Build it Back field offices.
Under the initiatives unveiled by de Blasio on Saturday, the city will:
Reallocate $100 million previously appropriated for community development block grant funds to homeowners, regardless of an applicant’s income or current program prioritization.
Immediately boost Housing Recovery Office staff by 35 percent — to 105 staff members — by transferring skilled personnel from other agencies into HRO.
Accelerate the design process for home repairs and rebuilds by moving design consultation to immediately after an offer is given to a homeowner.
Make it easier for homeowners who have received prior benefits to engage with Build it Back and fully understand their options. Homeowners will be able to fully proceed through the design process before needing to make transfer payments.
Allow homeowners to set aside their transfer payments for temporary relocation expenses if they are displaced during construction.
Eliminate permit and procedural bottlenecks that are slowing repairs and rebuilds; for example, clearing outstanding DOB permits that have prevented some Sandy rebuilds and repairs from moving forward.
Publish an updated strategy with diagnostic and additional specific recommendations to improve Sandy recovery in two weeks – on April 11.
Since January, de Blasio says Build it Back has completed 7,000 of nearly 10,000 damage assessments, had nearly 2,500 more review meetings, constituting more than $275 million of the $300 million in offers made and completing calls to 5,000 unresponsive applicants to yield an additional 1,200 applicants interested in program re-entry.
Elected officials representing South Queens said the mayor needed to move fast to restore confidence and make the city’s Sandy recovery programs work.
“Build it Back has been an abysmal failure since day one,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said at Monday’s Council hearing. “Bureaucratic red tape, lost paperwork and overall lack of accountability have stood in the way of people getting the help they need. I am hoping that the new administration will address these long-standing issues and deliver the relief that homeowners and residents have been waiting for.”
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) also called for the new Sandy recovery team to move quickly and fix issues with Build it Back.
“No more excuses, every family should get the resources they need to allow them to move on and rebuild their lives,” Goldfeder said testifying at Monday’s hearing. “No one currently waiting on Build it Back should have to see another Sandy anniversary pass before they finally get the help that they need. I strongly urge the City to expedite this process immediately.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said admitting the program had problems was itself a big step.
“The most important step was to acknowledge that the Build it Back program was not working for most of my constituents throughout Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel, Rockaway and Breezy Point and that changes were necessary,” he said.