Homeowners on the city’s shores have had just about enough of being washed out.
With the two-year anniversary of Sandy approaching later this month, only a small percentage of the homes that applied for rebuilding have seen construction begin. With Build it Back generally considered a failed response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the state’s plan to buy homeowners’ properties could become the new alternative to repairing or moving thousands of homes on in dangerous areas across the city.
The scramble to find an alternative with hurricane damage lingering reflects a rushed recovery plan that has left scores underserved by the city.
Because Build It Back has accomplished so little in its two years, many homeowners with remaining damage – those living on the vulnerable shores of Staten Island, Queens and Long Island – are seeking other ways to recover from the storm.
NY Rising’s Home Buyout Program, a part of the state-run recovery program, has included in its assessments 2,500 homes in both the city and Long Island since launching last spring. Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit communities, has a 99 percent participation rate.
“Homeowners and businesses on Staten Island endured among the worst destruction and devastation in New York State as a result of Superstorm Sandy,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The reality is that extreme weather is happening more frequently and we must take a new, smarter approach to rebuilding our communities in areas prone to storm damage.”
The program bundles communities into “enhanced buyout areas,” or areas with the highest risk for flooding and ones that are most susceptible to future disasters. If all residents opt into a buyout, the community is razed and becomes a buffer zone in which nothing is built.
Cuomo devoted $600 million of federal relief funds to the project, which will cover the acquisition and demolition of roughly 750 homes. NY Rising buys the homes at pre-storm values, and homeowners receive a 10 percent incentive for participation and an additional 5 percent incentive if the seller purchases a home in the same county.
Since September 2013, the state has paid $70 million to 170 out of 298 Oakwood Beach homeowners that have applied.
Homeowners in Long Beach have been awarded $84.7 million for repair and reconstruction, and NY Rising has made 47 offers to buy homes for more than $23 million.
Houses not located in the enhanced areas can be eligible if they apply through Build it Back, and properties that are good candidates for new housing will be given back to the city for redevelopment. The first round of those homeowners – 20 located on Staten Island – were sent to the state at the end of September to finish closings through Build It Back. Nearly 250 have applied for the acquisition program through the city agency.
“It’s nice to know there are various options in terms of recovery,” said Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, whose Rockaway district was one of the worst hit by Sandy. “And government should offer as many opportunities as possible to allow families to recover.”
More than 90 percent of the 20,000 Build it Back applicants have been left in the dark, according to a Department of Investigations report released Thursday. As of early September, more than 6,000 applications had been withdrawn or have become unresponsive, the report added.
Because Build it Back is considered a botched recovery plan by the Bloomberg Administration, the broader state plan could become the go-to for eligible homeowners in the city. The Oakwood Beach reception shows that homeowners are more concerned with moving on than bureaucratic overlaps that leave their lives in limbo.
“We can discuss and reach consensus on how to install the proper infrastructure, the housing typology and the aesthetics in all of these acquisition for redevelopment locations,” said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo. “But all of that is predicated on actually acquiring the property.”