NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Days after Superstorm Sandy, President Barack Obama visited Staten Island‘s South Shore and made a pledge to residents: “My commitment to you is I’m going to stay on it. I’m not going to be a stranger and suddenly forget all about it,” he said.
“Don’t forget about us,” Diane Camarata, of New Dorp Beach, urged the president then.READ MORE: Giants' Offense Sputters, Tagovailova Leads Dolphins To 5th Straight Win
Today, Camarata’s husband, Dominic, says: “Three years into this, he didn’t cut the red tape because of the fact we’re still trying to get work permits for our house, and the city and everything is making it very hard for us to get the house to the elevation that we need so that we can move on, because if our house don’t meet elevation, the house ain’t worth nothing.”
As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, such stories abound on Staten Island’s shores, where hundreds of homeowners who didn’t have insurance or didn’t qualify for federal grants were left to navigate a maze of rules and regulations in order to take part in the city’s Build It Back program, a program that is really just getting underway, says Rep. Dan Donovan, R-Staten Island.
“Build It Back was created after the storm occurred,” Donovan said. “We had no off-the-shelf remedy ready in case of a tragedy such as we suffered. So it took the city and the state a long time to figure out what do we do and how do we help people.”
Many have been helped. Nicole Chati is one of the success stories.
Chati’s New Dorp Beach home was elevated this past year. She was handed the keys in July.
“I have a big mouth, and I know when to use it,” she said. ” … If you’re not a fighter, you’re not getting anything. So people are actually coming to me now: ‘How did you do it?’ And I’m explaining it to them.”
When Mayor Bill de Blasio entered office in 2014, he promised a complete overhaul of Build It Back.
Director Amy Peterson says on Staten Island alone 1,227 homeowners have received more than $19 million in reimbursement checks. Three hundred thirty-one homes have been repaired or raised to meet new elevation requirements.
“We’ve really cut the red tape exactly so that hundreds of things that you had to do before you could even start construction have now either been deferred, moved to later in the process, and we’re really making it easier for these projects to move forward more quickly,” Peterson said.
On one of the days Diamond visited Staten Island, she watched an Ocean Breeze home off Father Capodanno Boulevard being demolished by contractor Ducky Johnson.
Project manager Jeremy Patterson explained what was happening: “You can see each crib block’s like a Jenga block. So it’s a 4-foot-by-4-foot crib. Each one of them blocks weighs about 80 pounds. So we set a hydraulic crib jack in the middle of it. OK? They run a hose back to a big machine, which is a unified jack machine and literally you pull a lever, and it all goes up at one time. Technology’s so unbelievable from when I came when I was a kid.”
His family-run business has elevated thousands of homes, most on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. It’s a 90-day process, Patterson said.READ MORE: Connecticut Man Who Tested Positive For Omicron Variant Resting At Home With Mild Symptoms, Gov. Lamont Says
That sounds like a dream to Ana Buono. Her contractor has told her an elevation of her Midland Beach home may take four to nine months.
“We have to go find an apartment (in the interim),” she said. “That, to me, is the worst part, because we’re back home. This is our home. And (when) we moved back into this house, it wasn’t done. We had no floors. We had one toilet bowl. We did the work ourselves.”
Three years of work has been a strain on her, her family and her marriage.
“There is not a book for ‘Hurricane for Dummies.’ There’s not. There should have been one,” she said. “Someone should make one. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to end. And every single month is a new issue.
“We need our home elevated. Our flood insurance went from $1,200; we are now at $4,900. Next year, it’s going to be another 18 percent. The following year after that, another 18 percent. Before you know it, our flood insurance is going to be 10, 15 thousand dollars, and you cannot afford to live here.”
Some are wondering if it’s worth the cost.
Back in New Dorp Beach, Suzanne Rodriguez is still at square one. There’s still an empty lot where her home once stood.
“After the storm, I hired someone to rebuild,” she explained. “After he started the process, I didn’t know that he didn’t have a license. He provided a license, but it wasn’t his. And at the same time, I registered with Build It Back. So ever since then, I’ve been waiting for Build It Back to build.”
She’s currently renting a home in Oakwood.
“Not very easy,” Rodriguez said. “We’re living in a one-bedroom. There’s four of us. And this will be three years since we’ve been living like that.”
Her son, Enrique, is 10 years old. Her daughter, Julianne, is 5.
“Every day they would ask me, ‘When are we going home?'” Rodriguez said. “And then when I had some news, which I really didn’t want to share it, but I thought that we were getting closer. And then after all, they would just tell me, ‘Oh, we’re not going, we’re not going. Don’t tell me.’ But I just keep thinking that we’re getting closer to home, and we’re not, so far.”
Recovery will be measured in years, not months or days. But Peterson said she sees reason for hope.MORE NEWS: Bob Dole, Former Senate GOP Leader And Presidential Nominee, Dies At 98
“I think now we have the resources to do what we need to do,” she said. “I think what we’ve done over the last year has taught us a lot of things about what we’re going to find in the field when we do the construction, what we needed to accelerate and where we needed more contract capacity. And I’m really excited. I know these homeowners, and I know how much they want to be home. And I do see us making progress moving them through the process, but I want to see them all get homes.”