NEW YORK — Facing Superstorm Sandy’s daunting toll of wreckage and displacement in the nation’s largest city, officials have put much of their hopes and hundreds of millions of dollars into jump-starting repairs to make homes livable.
Federal and city officials see the strategy — focusing on getting people back into their own homes, not temporary housing — as an innovative and nimble answer to the challenge of housing thousands of storm victims in a notoriously expensive and crowded area.
But with relatively few homes fixed so far, questions are emerging about whether the “rapid repairs” initiative can live up to its name.
More than 10,000 homeowners have signed up for NYC Rapid Repairs in the three weeks since Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the initiative to bring in hundreds of contractors to restore power, heat and other essentials free of charge.
Contractors have done initial assessments of about 7,000 homes in the city and 2,000 in similar initiatives on Long Island, but just about 400 projects have been completed so far.
Officials stress that they’re still ramping up the program. But a community meeting last week in hard-hit Staten Island boiled over with complaints that repairs and other aid aren’t coming fast enough, a familiar refrain in storm-damaged areas.
Noreen Connolly-Skammel’s home on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens was hit by a basement fire and then a flood that swamped the cellar and two feet of the first floor. She said the NYC Rapid Repairs program was swift at first, conducting an assessment within two to three days after her call. But she heard nothing further for about two weeks, when she was told a new assessment had to be done.
Anxious to get the work going, she and her husband spent about $8,300 of their own money on boiler, hot water and electrical repairs — the very sort the government program might have done for free.
“I wish they were a little more rapid,” she said, noting that the program has since pledged to help with other repairs.
Officials are asking for patience with the first-of-its-kind effort.
FEMA is paying much of the bill for the home-repair program, while also subsidizing hotel stays and apartments for thousands of Sandy victims — help some say has come promptly, but not without snags.
For FEMA, Sandy represents one of the biggest tests since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 rendered 300,000 homes uninhabitable along the Gulf Coast, displaced more than 1 million people and spurred a national examination of disaster housing.
Citing the confusing and problem-plagued process of housing people after Katrina, FEMA’s 2009 National Disaster Housing Strategy calls for improvements from exploring new forms of temporary housing to providing more social services to the displaced.
Yet city, state and federal officials didn’t have a ready answer when they realized that as many as 40,000 city residents might need temporary quarters after Sandy, an estimate that quickly shrank as many homes got heat and electricity back.View Entire Story
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