Mayor, in Queens, touts Build it Back progress

Broad Channel resident John Galimi speaks at a press conference with his wife, Jayme, left, Mayor de Blasio advisors Bill Goldstein and Dan Zarrilli, de Blasio, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder and Amy Peterson, director of the mayor’s office of housing recovery, in Broad Channel on Monday. 

John and Jayme Galimi just want to go home.

The couple and their five kids have not lived in their Broad Channel house since Hurricane Sandy devastated it on Oct. 29, 2012. Nearly two years later, there may be a light at the end of the long tunnel the storm left them in.

The couple stood outside their home at 12-06 Cross Bay Blvd. on Monday morning looking up at the two-story house, now raised nearly 12 feet above the sidewalk. Beside them was Mayor de Blasio, who came to the neighborhood in the heart of Jamaica Bay hard hit by Sandy to announce significant and long-awaited progress in the city’s Sandy recovery program.

That day the flood waters nearly proved fatal for the Galimi, who were trapped in rising floodwaters in their home.

They have lived with friends in Ozone Park and a rented place in Howard Beach. At the same time, Build it Back. But now they are slated to be back in their home by Christmas.

“The nightmare for them in almost over,” de Blasio said alongside the family Monday.

The mayor was on hand to announce more progress in the much aligned Build it Back program, established in June 2013 by the Bloomberg administration but riddled with problems in its first six months.

Approximately 6,400 homeowners across the city — half of those still actively seeking help from Build it Back — have been made offers for reimbursement checks or reconstruction. At the beginning of the year, that number was only 451.

That’s when the de Blasio administration overhauled the program, eliminating income eligibility requirements, embedding staffers directly in the communities affected by the storm and putting Amy Peterson in charge of the program, which the mayor said was “his favorite change” to Build it Back.

De Blasio said there have been 727 construction starts and 878 reimbursement checks sent to date. That’s several hundred more just since Labor Day.

At the beginning of the year, those numbers were zero ... and zero.

The mayor has also set new benchmarks for progress. By Dec. 31, his administration is aiming for 1,000 construction starts and 1,500 reimbursement checks cut.

Peterson said that she hopes the progress shown will entice homeowners who have given up on the process to try again.

“What I hope today is other homeowners see the progress the Galimis are making and return to the program,” she said.

In the next few weeks, de Blasio said the city will be releasing a new Request for Proposals to dramatically expand design and construction capacity, an area which Peterson said she was “unhappy” with and where she would like to see more progress.

Other problems do still persist. Several residents, especially in Howard Beach, have complained of stumbles Build it Back has made, including several situations where residents were deemed ineligible after waiting a year or more for the program to get to them. In one case a resident was told that Build it Back would not fix his basement, despite allegedly being told it would since he first applied in July 2013.

Nevertheless, officials and civic leaders from the devastated areas expressed optimism in the progress Build it Back has made.

“The program hit a lot of glitches I don’t think any city agency has seen before,” said Dan Mundy Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association, noting that issues such as zoning and insurance were hurdles the city had to jump over. “I hope we can use the Galimi home as a model for others.”

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who had been critical of Build it Back, also noted the progress.

“There was a real fear that the world had moved on,” he said. “I’m glad to see that we have not been forgotten.”

De Blasio also outlined resiliency measures being taken, such as the $7 million Sunset Cove wetlands restoration project in Broad Channel, and resiliency studies that are underway, including one focused on Old Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel. He also noted that last week, City Hall instituted two new programs focused on Sandy-hit communities. One, the Build it Back Local Hiring Initiative, seeks to employ those in Sandy-ravaged areas in recovery efforts. The other, the Rockaway Economic Advancement Initiative, seeks to connect Rockaway residents will high-quality, full-time employment.

But for the Galimis, the new windows and siding going up on their home are more important signs of progress than the numbers and price tags coming out of City Hall.

“It’s been a long process,” John Galimi said. “It’s been a lot of bumps and curves. We’re glad Build it Back came through for us.”