- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A program to help city homeowners with Superstorm Sandy home-repair efforts has made progress following an overhaul, and is aiming to count up to 1,000 construction starts and 1,500 reimbursement checks by the end of the year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

De Blasio said there have been 727 construction starts and 878 reimbursement checks through the Build it Back program so far this year. That’s compared to none at the start of the year, when he took office.

“We know that this is not abstract,” de Blasio said at an event outside a home being rebuilt through the program whose owners are expected to move back in by Christmas. “We know that every check means a family is getting back on their feet. Every construction start means a family will get back in their homes.”

The program had come under criticism for its sluggish pace. A report earlier this month from the city’s Department of Investigation found that about 20,000 households applied after the program was created in June 2013. But eight months later, no repairs or reimbursements had been made, and some of those who had initially applied stopped taking part.

De Blasio said about 6,400 active applicants have now been made an offer by the program, about half of those still active in it. Of those, nearly 4,000 have accepted an offer and more than 1,500 have started with renovation designs.

His administration overhauled the program with changes, including hiring more staffers and streamlining some of the rules and requirements.

The Oct. 29, 2012, storm was one of the worst to strike the Northeast and was blamed for more than 150 deaths and $50 billion in damage. Superstorm Sandy, a hybrid of a hurricane and two cold-weather systems, concentrated most of its fury on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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