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Queens Chronicle

Fire Build it Back head, Ulrich says

Rockaway residents say too many are still not back in their homes

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Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2016 10:30 am

Ellen Nichtern’s elderly mother just wants to go home.

“She’s very depressed, this is killing her,” said Nicthern as she stood in front of her Rockaway house, which she moved out of in February to allow Build it Back to elevate it.

Nichtern was told the work would take five months — yet nothing has been done to it since she moved out. According to her, Build it Back has had difficulties obtaining building permits to get started.

Across the Rockaway peninsula and other Sandy-devastated communities, similar stories can be found.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) Monday said there needs to be a change and it has to come from the top.

“I am calling for Mayor de Blasio to fire Amy Peterson as director of the Build it Back program,” Ulrich said standing in front of Nichtern’s house. “She’s just not able to get the job done.”

The councilman, who has been complimentary of Peterson’s work in the past, is now disenchanted with her because too many of his constituents, like Nichtern, have been out of their homes while Build it Back drags its feet.

“It’s not like I picked the one house that managed to fall through the cracks,” he said.

Responding to questions from reporters, he added he’s not sure how many people have had their homes rebuilt since Sandy because the city has not told him.

“I used to get quarterly reports but then I guess I got on the bad side of someone in City Hall because those stopped,” he said.

A spokesman for Build it Back said in an emailed statement, “When Mayor de Blasio took office and appointed Amy Peterson to run the program, not one homeowner had received a check or seen construction. That is why this administration immediately overhauled the program and took over direct management — resulting in 80% of homeowners served to date.

“Further, $120 million in reimbursement checks have been issued to residents. We are continuing to elevate and rebuild homes across the City to complete the program — as the Mayor committed — by the end of this year,” the spokesman added.

Citywide, the spokesman added, 6,939 applicants have been served out of a total 8,729. 

The councilman, however, said the numbers presented by Build it Back may not be entirely accurate.

Ulrich, who is considering a run against de Blasio next year, alleged that “construction starts” include putting fences up around houses.

One of Ulrich’s colleagues, however, disagreed with his assessment of Peterson.

“She’s been excellent and to say anything else would be a blatant lie,” said Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), who represents the eastern part of Rockaway.

Richards said Peterson has been communicative with his office and just last month program officials resolved more than two dozen issues presented to them.

“If you’re communicating with them, they’re communicating with you,” he said. “That’s been this office’s experience with them.”

He did add that the program is not perfect.

“There are hiccups, there are communications issues,” Richards noted. “But to say Amy Peterson is not doing her job and should be fired, that’s just irresponsible.”

John Cori, president of the Rockaway Beach Civic Association, not only criticized Peterson but Mayor de Blasio, saying he has not shown sympathy for those still enrolled in the recovery program.

“This guy has zero compassion” Cori said. “Bill de Blasio has to quit his job and live in a hotel until the other people living in a hotel are back in their homes.”

When de Blasio took office in 2014, the Build it Back program had started work on zero homes and reimbursed nobody for the work they had done on their houses.

That spring, he put Peterson in charge of the program and by the beginning of 2015, about 100 homes in Queens were repaired.

But for people like Nicthern, the nightmare still continues.

“They never should have asked me to move out in the first place because they obviously weren’t ready to start work yet,” she said.

Other Rockaway residents, including her next door neighbor, have been out of their houses for months and have not seen any work done yet.

She also worries that her home’s closed windows and the overgrowth on her front lawn present health hazards.

The Rockaway resident completed most of the work on her house by herself, she said. The only thing left to be done is repair her bedroom and elevate the house.

Since February, she added, communication with Build it Back officials has been sparse and the last time she heard from them was last Friday — when she told them she plans on talking to reporters about her case.

Cori and Ulrich charged the de Blasio administration with wasting federal dollars directed to the program by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The civic president said the matter should be probed.

“Congress should launch an investigation into this program,” he said.

Ulrich criticized the administration for what he called an unwillingness to ensure the program is transparent.

“City Hall has been very resistant to any idea the City Council has had in terms of oversight,” he said.

The Council, he said, has previously suggested an inspector general be put in charge of overseeing the program. According to Ulrich, City Hall entrusted the Department of Investigation with keeping the program honest.

Furthermore, he criticized Build it Back for hosting “key turnover” ceremonies for residents whose houses are repaired by the program.

“I don’t even go to them,” he said. “They’re a slap in the face for the hundreds of people who are not in their homes.”

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  • Stuart posted at 1:56 pm on Thu, Jul 21, 2016.

    Stuart Posts: 17

    Build It Back wore me down with their incompetence, their repeated requests, over and over and over again, for documentation that I provided over and over and over again, until I simply stopped responding to them and wrote off my losses.During that time they asked me to put up several thousand dollars toward my own losses. I truly believe that if they are not criminally intentioned, they are criminally incompetent. And this has been through several people at the top of Build it Back.

  • 100PCCPres posted at 5:00 pm on Mon, Jul 18, 2016.

    100PCCPres Posts: 71

    Being a Community activist in Rockaway and knowing many people here in our Community when we get on the subject of "Build it Back" many I said to me WHEN will I hear back, I'm still WAITING, I filled out paper work a FEW times "Oh" I give up, and some even had to spend their own money. After awhile I would not even bring up the name "Build it Back" anymore. I'm not saying there were residents who did not get help from the program, I just heard too much, too much negativity from many people. This program was never put together right from the beginning.

    Danny Ruscillo
    Community Activist
    Rockaway Park