ROCKAWAY BEACH — The city's federally-funded program to help repair homes and reimburse homeowners impacted by Hurricane Sandy has met its goal of providing relief to more than 1,000 applicants by Labor Day — fueled in part by a surge of more than 100 construction starts in the week before the holiday.
The Build It Back program had not disbursed any money or started on construction as late as March, despite the program being announced in June of 2013 and registration closing Oct. 31, DNAinfo reported earlier this year.
In April, the city announced a plan to distribute 500 reimbursement checks and begin 500 construction projects by Labor Day.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city exceeded that goal, doling out 543 reimbursement checks and starting construction on 535 homes throughout the city as of Sept. 1.
Also, 68 buildings have been completed.
Some 411 construction projects were underway as of Aug. 26, but more than 100 were started in the week before Labor Day, according to an official.
The push came as more homeowners moved out of the design phase and into construction — a number that has continued to increase with more staffers, an official said.
Construction starts could mean anything from extensive work to asbestos abatement, depending on what the home needs, according to an official.
“The vast majority of homes have already seen extensive work," said Amy Spitalnick, the director of public affairs for the Office of Management and Budget.
De Blasio said the city has a long way to go to distribute the more than $1 billion in federal dollars given to the program.
"We know there’s much more work ahead—and we’re committed to continuing to speed up recovery so that every homeowner gets the relief they need," he said in a press release.
There are currently 15,000 active applicants for the program around the five boroughs, and $9 million was distributed to homeowners.
The borough with the most homes under construction is Queens, where 206 homeowners received reimbursement checks and 151 construction jobs were started as of Monday, according to Spitalnick.
An entire home in Breezy Point has been rebuilt, and another home in Edgemere is in the process of being lifted, according to the city. The borough also has the highest number of applicants, 9,100.
To continue with the progress, the Build It Back program expanded eligibility and options for homeowners, and eliminated priority levels, which had previously been partially based on income.
The city also boosted the program's staff, adding borough directors and 44 inspectors from the Department of Buildings.
Applicants can also now track the status online in "real time," so they can check up on their submitted paperwork, officials said. The transparency will help frustrated applicants who said their paperwork was getting lost in the shuffle, according to officials.
"This progress is long-overdue, but good news nonetheless," said Councilmember Eric Ulrich, who represents parts of south Queens that were decimated by Hurricane Sandy.
"As I’ve said since the very beginning of this program; the day when every family affected by the storm can be restored and made whole again cannot come soon enough."