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Sandy watch: City allocates first relief funds

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 4/17/2013, 10:45 p.m.
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Now over 100 days since Hurricane Sandy, the city is getting its share of recovery funds from the federal government. Officials are now on watch to make sure that funds are distributed fairly to areas that need it.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that New York City plans to spend its initial allocation in the neighborhoods hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy through eight new programs.

The new programs fall into three categories of immediate need: housing recovery, business recovery and infrastructure resiliency. The housing recovery initiatives include rehabilitation grants for single-family homes, rehabilitation grants for multi-family homes and grants for resiliency efforts in public housing.

"These funds will help New Yorkers who were the hardest hit by Sandy get back on their feet and help communities build back stronger and smarter," said Bloomberg. "This allocation is evidence of the great cooperation we've had in responding to and recovering from Sandy from every branch and arm of the federal government."

The money is being divided by category. In housing, $350 million will be for a grant program for up to 9,300 homeowners, $250 million for multi-family homes and $120 million to address initial resilience measures for public housing developments, such as permanent emergency generators at key buildings to provide backup power to critical building systems.

"NYCHA will use these funds to install backup generators and other critical equipment above flood levels in over 100 of our buildings in low-lying areas, focusing on buildings with high concentrations of seniors and vulnerable residents," said NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea. "These upgrades will ensure that essential services such as elevators and emergency lighting are maintained during and after a storm."

Those seeking recovery of businesses will receive a share of $185 million while $140 million will be spent on infrastructure.

Several politicians in areas across the city want to make sure that funds are spent properly as the first federal funds roll. Area hit hard, including Far Rockaway, Queens, received delays in service after the hurricane and are still in need.

"Now we face another battle--over how much aid will be allocated to New York, and how, where and on what New York's portion is spent," said Rep. Gregory Meeks. "The needs of homeowners and small businesses must be prioritized. Money should be quickly gotten to people who are dedicated to rebuilding. This will help stabilize families and communities, revive services, restore employment and create jobs."

Meeks also reported that electricity has still not been restored to 1,000 residents in Far Rockaway.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that an investigation found that $200 million in Sandy insurance fund relief has not been released by banks, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, to homeowners. The money is supposed to help homeowners pay for repairs.

"Families need to be able to return to their homes and the state economy, which took a hit from Superstorm Sandy, needs the boost from spending on repairs. After insurance companies have sent homeowners checks to pay for repairs, the money should not be sitting with the bank because of red tape," Cuomo said. "Banks need to use maximum discretion to get money into homeowners' hands as quickly as possible."

Letters have been sent to banks and mortgage servicers asking that they use maximum discretion and effort to speed the release of funds. The state's Department of Financial Services has also sent letters to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seeking emergency reforms of their rules and policies relating to the release of insurance funds by banks and servicers.