Homeowners who consider themselves “victims” of the city’s Build it Back program hoist signs that show their displeasure with agency officials at a meeting at the Beach Channel Educational Campus on Wednesday night.
Build it Back head Amy Peterson gives a PowerPoint presentation detailing why an additional $500 million from other city budgets is needed to complete the program.
Local Activist John Cori dropped out of the program over frustration with the process.
Local Mark Dana said that he was promised money and then dropped from the program because he was “unresponsive.” He waves a sheaf of papers showing that he responded over and over again.
An unused bank of six interpreters in various languages sat at the rear of the room.
An angry Hazareen Mohamed called the agency “Destroy it Back.”
Two hundred Rockaway residents came to the Beach Channel Educational Campus on Wednesday night to show their anger and impatience at the city’s Build it Back program, designed to get Sandy-devastated homeowners back into their homes.
And, while the homeowners were there to rile at Build it Back officials, those officials were there on a mandated mission to tell locals why they needed $500 million taken from other city programs to finish their mission nearly four years after the storm struck.
And, to inform the locals that they had no right to ask questions of the high officials that were present, but simply to make statements that would be addressed at a later date.
“We’re not taking any questions tonight,” agency boss Amy Peterson said over and over again as questions were shouted out during her PowerPoint presentation. “We’ll take your statements and those will be addressed in our final report.”
Peterson pointed out in her presentation that the added money taken from other budgets to address the needs of Build it Back “is money that is not going away, but just being moved to where it is needed.”
She suggested that the extra money is needed because of added costs, such as adding a second entrance to homes, paying the increased construction costs necessary in New York City – three times as high as any other city, temporary rental assistance and a new buy-out program.
Peterson said that the city was working on a new program that would give homeowners who wanted to sell their home to the city an additional $50,000 to sell, an additional $50,000 to those below the poverty level, an additional $50,000 to those who bought another home in New York City and an additional $50,000 to those who bought that home outside the flood plain.
Officials handed out a 91-page draft report on why the money was needed that many at the meeting said read like a prospectus for a condo deal that pushed low-cost condos that would fall apart in a year.
Locals were not buying the program. More than three dozen stood and took the microphone to excoriate the program and the officials who sat at the front of the auditorium.
Local resident Mark Dana was the second to speak.
“They threw me out of the program because they said that I did not respond to their requests,” Dana said, waving a four-inch think sheaf of papers and correspondence with the agency. “I was on the reimbursement track and had signed off to receive $16,000 because they told me that I had to take it or I would be dropped from the program. Then I found out that they had dropped me completely.”
Dana urged that Peterson and other officials should be fired and investigated by federal agencies.
John Mahoney, a Breezy Point resident, said that local contractors told him that they could rebuild his home for $175,000, but that Build it Back officials said that it would take nearly a million dollars to do it.
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon said that he “is embarrassed that he supported Mayor Bill de Blasio” after what it has done to local homeowners.
Mike Scala said, “The homeowners are victims of the city and its agency as much as they were victims of Sandy.”
Turning to Peterson, he said, “You have to acknowledge that Build it Back is a failure and then find a way to turn it around.”
Far Rockaway resident Hazareen Mohamad said that the agency should be called “Destroy it Back, not Build it Back.”
A number of speakers focused their ire at Tischman, a company chosen by the agency to rebuild and raise many of the local homes.
“I have been out of my home for more than a year,” a local said. “The people from Tischman have been verbally abusive and threatening, telling me I had to sign off on lots of things I did not want or they were going to drop me from the program. A local builder said he could do the house for $200,000, but Tischman told me it would cost $196,000 for the same job. They tell me they can’t rebuild because of permits form the city, but I called the Department of Buildings and they tell me the permits are in place.”
The Three-hour meeting ended with a whimper when the last of the speakers finished and the city officials packed up and left after promising that all of the “concerns” of the homeowners would be addressed after the comment period ended on October 24, only days after the final of three public hearings on the extra money.