NEW YORK—Congressman Michael Grimm had harsh words to say on a sunny Wednesday morning about the city’s troubled Hurricane Sandy recovery program Build it Back.
Build it Back is: A disgrace, a black eye, a blemish, completely broken, and at a screeching halt.
The responsible agencies are “clueless, inept, and incompetent,” the congressman said.
The city, on the other hand, blames the previous administration for botching the program while taking credit for putting it back on track.
Build it Back was designed by the Bloomberg administration to use federal disaster relief money to mainly restore private houses damaged by Superstorm Sandy, reimburse people who repaired their houses out-of-pocket, and buy out severely damaged or destroyed houses.
Some 15,000 people applied for the program, but by the end of 2013 nothing was restored, reimbursed, or bought out.
Mayor Bill de Blasio gave the program new leadership and vowed to bring it back on track, saying 500 reimbursement checks will go out and reconstruction will begin on 500 houses by summer’s end.
Yet, while progress is made on one end, patience runs out on the other.
“I warned the mayor seven, eight months ago people are going to walk away,” Grimm said during a press conference on Staten Island, accompanied by Kathleen Cole, a local resident whose house suffered damage during the storm.
“Mrs. Cole and her family had to pay rent to live at another location, at the same time making mortgage payments,” Grimm said. “There’s only so long anyone can do that.”
Cole refused to talk to media, but from Grimm’s description, she was dropped from Build it Back without being notified. According to the city, she withdrew from the program herself.
She’s now back in Build it Back, but facing another roadblock. The procedure usually begins with appraising the house, but the appraisal company, Dewberry Engineers Inc., was only contracted to do around 10,000 appraisals, which covers most, but not all of the damaged homes.
Grimm said the city should have been upfront about the situation, but instead asked Cole for paperwork she had already submitted, buying time to renew the contract.
The congressman noted that this approach, together with months of waiting, causes people to walk away from the program, which stops any reconstruction work on their houses until they get the federal money.
“They don’t want to hear anything anymore and I don’t blame them. They’re done,” Grimm said. “Whatever the mayor does at this point is almost irrelevant.”
“The city is finalizing the contract amendment that will allow us to complete remaining assessments,” Build it Back spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick stated in an email response.
Grimm, Representative for Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, has rarely spoken to media since the FBI indicted him in April for tax evasion and lying under oath. His trial is to begin in October, just a month before his possible reelection on November 4.
Correction: The article was updated to accurately reflect recent activities of Rep. Michael Grimm.