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De Blasio Announces Reforms To City’s Sandy Rebuilding Program

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City is aiming to start rebuilding 500 homes wrecked during Superstorm Sandy and issue 500 reimbursement checks by the end of the summer.

The mayor unveiled a sweeping report Thursday that examined the city’s recovery progress. He made the announcement from a Staten Island neighborhood that was battered by the storm.

De Blasio said the Build it Back program has been “overly complex” and created confusion among homeowners.

“We can’t stand idly by as red tape and bureaucratic bottlenecks prevent far too many New Yorkers from getting the relief they need,” he said.

WEB EXTRA: Read the full report on the city’s Sandy recovery

The mayor said the city will reform the program by providing financial relief to homeowners and expand the eligibility for those looking for buyouts or reimbursements.

The revamped program will also engage local communities in the rebuilding process.

The snail’s pace of the recovery program not only triggered an audit by the city comptroller, but also created frustration among homeowners, including Thomas Cunsolo, head of the Midland Beach Alliance, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

“This is New York, so the rest of the country is watching,” Cunsolo said.

“If they could start that money flowing, you’ll have a lot of people being in good shape,” Cunsolo told CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon. “We’ve got people who are selling cars, selling jewelry and everything just to stay alive.”

The damage from the Oct. 2012 storm is still apparent in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. There are many boarded-up homes and vacant lots, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.

“It’s like a little utopia when it was going good. Now it’s like a ghost town almost,” said William Kazak, a 43-year resident of the area.

Sign at Ocean Breeze, Staten Island home nearly 18 months after superstorm Sandy hit, April 17, 2014. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Sign at Ocean Breeze, Staten Island home nearly 18 months after superstorm Sandy hit, April 17, 2014. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Kazak rebuilt his home with his own money and said he is hoping the expanded reimbursements will include him.

“Fortunately, I was able to sell some stock to be able to rebuild,” he told Haskell. “But there are a lot of people who have no money and nothing, and they’re still without a home. That’s terrible.”

Joseph Hernkind told Rincon he and his neighbors in Ocean Breeze gave up on Build it Back, opting instead for the state’s buyout program instead.

“If you’re getting this up and running now, and it’s going to help other people, we wish you well with it, but I still think it’s still unrealistic, the number of 500 homes by summer,” he said.

Tom Clark of Ocean Breeze said he is among those looking for a buyout.

“There’s no way I’m staying. There’s no way,” he said. “I don’t want to go through this again. It’s too traumatic.”

Some have described the delays as negligence and incompetence, Haskell reported.

As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, after wrestling with red tape for months Fred Masinski said he’s not too excited over the mayor’s reboot of the Build it Back program.

“What is that? Are you kidding me?” he said. “Come on, you’re telling me you’re going to revamp this program and start helping people a year and a half later?”

Borough President James Oddo said Staten Islanders deserve better.

“For 18 months, Staten Islanders have been inundated with words,” he said.

The mayor’s plan also addresses the communciation problem and promises to work with and employ people in the affected communities to rebuild.

Only nine homes are currently under construction under the federally funded program. Build It Back was created by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to primarily help New Yorkers repair, rebuild and elevate homes.

City officials have said they need another $1 billion from the federal government in order to help every homeowner in need.

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