An often-criticized initiative to rebuild Superstorm Sandy-damaged homes has started work on more than 130, finished 30 and dispensed more than $6.3 million to reimburse homeowners for reconstruction costs, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
He said the city is on track to keep its promise of starting work on 500 homes and sending out 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day.
De Blasio made the promise three months ago, amid widespread frustration with the program, which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in June 2013. As of April, only nine homes were undergoing work, and none had been finished.
Changes include eliminating income categories that had prevented some applications from moving forward while others were pending.
The 132 homes underway represent just over a quarter of the goal the city has vowed to reach within six weeks, but officials said the pace was picking up. Some 2,500 homeowners have now OK’d a repair plan — 1,500 of them in the past three months — and about 650 of those projects are in the design phase, said Amy Peterson, the head of Build It Back.
“We are absolutely confident that we will meet that goal,” de Blasio said. “We are going to keep that promise.”
He spoke outside a Brooklyn home that had its basement flooded by Sandy.
The owner, Tonyelle Jobity, who manages a state-run group home for the mentally disabled, maxed out her credit cards and emptied her savings account doing what repairs she could while waiting a year and a half for help from the city, de Blasio said. She lived in the damaged home in the meantime.
On Thursday, seven workers provided by Build It Back fastened plywood to a leaking part of her roof. The program also was slated to fix her basement and boiler room. It has reimbursed her for what she spent, de Blasio said.
“She was just ready to give up hope,” said her sister, Cynthia Johnson. “Then this comes along. So it’s a blessing.”
Still, much work remains for the city program. Peterson said about 20,000 homeowners have applied to Build it Back, and the city expects at least 15,000 still need work done — some of its substantial. While many homes need relatively limited repairs, many others need to be elevated to protect against future storm flooding, about about 750 need to be rebuilt completely, Peterson said.
“We want to get the vast majority of the work done this year and next year,” de Blasio said.
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