State And Local Rebuilding Programs are Ramping Up
There are numerous Sandy rebuilding programs in place for homeowners and businesses throughout the region. Two large ones that launched last year with federal dollars are New Jersey's Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation initiative and New York City's Build It Back. While each program had contentious beginnings, both appear to be gaining momentum.
Critics of the New Jersey program contend it took a lawsuit filed against the state and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to get the ball rolling. The Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Fair Share Housing Center and other advocacy groups filed suit last year, claiming a lack of transparency on funding for low-income housing.
The suit, which was settled earlier this year, served to highlight the red tape homeowners and small businesses have faced in trying to get help and answers to basic questions from the state, says Phyllis Salowe-Kay, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. She says "money has started to flow in the last three to four months [due to] the lawsuit."
According to the New Jersey Sandy Transparency website, the rebuilding program had served 27,449 homeowners and 5,470 renters, and awarded 18,536 resettlement grants as of early August. It also awarded a total of about $447 million in grant assistance obligations.
In New York City earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio established a Sandy team headed by Bill Goldstein, former executive vice president of MTA Capital Construction who now serves as senior adviser for the city's Recovery, Resiliency and Infrastructure Office. It coordinates New York City's entire federally funded rebuilding and resiliency effort. De Blasio also named Amy Peterson, an engineer who has served as president of Nontraditional Employment for Women, to the team as director of the Housing Recovery Office, part of the team.
The mayor followed up those appointments with announced changes to the much-maligned Build It Back program, which he vowed to greatly improve.
Launched in June 2013, the program was "never implemented," Peterson says. "When this administration took office in January, there were no construction starts, no checks issued, no projects in design—there were a lot of people struggling to get through the process," she says.
From the revamp to early August, however, the city started construction on 207 projects; logged another 300 starts to begin by Labor Day; and sent 524 reimbursement checks. "We've made a lot of progress," she says.
To ensure that trend continues, city Comptroller Scott Stringer launched an audit of the program in April to "hold government accountable" in the ongoing rebuilding effort.