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Bloomberg Announces Plans for First $1 Billion of Sandy Recovery Cash

By Jill Colvin | February 6, 2013 3:29pm
 More than a dozen houses on Kissam Avenue in Staten Island were leveled during Hurricane Sandy.
More than a dozen houses on Kissam Avenue in Staten Island were leveled during Hurricane Sandy.
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DNAinfo/Catherine Nance

CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined the city’s plans Wednesday for spending the first $1 billion in federal Hurricane Sandy recovery cash.

“I’m happy to say that we are in line to receive — in relatively short order — a first installment of almost $1.8 billion of the funds that Congress and the president has approved,” Bloomberg said at a press conference at City Hall.

The money won’t begin trickling out to struggling home and business owners until at least May or June, since the city’s plans must go through a lengthy approval process first, officials said.

The money will be spread across three areas: housing recovery, small business recovery and neighborhood and infrastructure recovery.

“They’re designed [to] meet the most urgent needs of communities that Sandy hit the hardest,” Bloomberg said.

The plan includes $720 million to rebuild and repair homes damaged by the storm.

That includes $350 million to help up to 1,000 low, moderate and middle-income homeowners whose primary residences were destroyed by the storm rebuild according to new building code standards.

The money will also help another 8,300 low, moderate and middle-income home owners whose homes were less severely damaged pay for repairs, including electrical work and mold remediation.

Bloomberg acknowledged the money would only cover about half of the homes damaged and destroyed by Sandy, but said he hoped that subsequent rounds of funding would cover the rest.

Another $250 million will be used to target 1,600 low, moderate and middle-income multi-family buildings that were damaged by Sandy, to repair apartments and make buildings more resilient against future storms.

A final $120 million will be spent to repair and rebuild public housing, including adding permanent, emergency back-up generators at more than 100 buildings.

On the business side, the city is planning to spend $185 million, including $80 million to fund new loans and grants averaging $75,000 for up to 1,000 businesses still reeling from Sandy’s impact.

Another $100 million has been earmarked to fund grants for up to 1,300 businesses in vulnerable areas to make infrastructure investments so they can better ride out future storms.

An estimated 13,000 businesses across the city were impacted by Sandy’s flooding, and 70,000 were left without power for days or weeks after, officials said.

Finally, the city intends to spend $140 million on two Race-to-the-Top-style grant competitions.

The first would offer $100 million to boost economic activity in five “Business Recovery Zones” that experienced significant damage during the storm: south Queens, south Brooklyn, the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, Lower Manhattan and the south shore of Staten Island.

“This competition will help us jumpstart businesses in those areas and help them get back on their feet,” Bloomberg said.

The final $40 million would be used to fund a competition to help utility companies develop ways to make city’s electricity, gas and telecommunication systems less vulnerable to future storms.

Asked to respond to criticism that the aid was moving too slowly, Bloomberg called the pace "amazing."

“In government speak, this is instantaneous,” he said. “The government doesn’t back up a truck and dump bills on the ground. You have to justify it. You have to get approval. You have to comply with the law."

He also stressed that the city hasn't waited for federal funding, but has started programs like “Rapid Repair” using city cash.

The city has yet to decide how it will spend the remaining 40 percent of the $1.77 billion allocation. But Bloomberg insisted that wouldn't result in a delay in the city's access to the cash.

“We’re working as expeditiously as we can possibly do it,” he said. “We’ve got plans for $1 billion out of $1.8 already. Let’s focus on everything that we’ve done so far. We’re getting this going in record time.”

The federal money will also be used to reimburse FEMA and the city for money it has already spent, including hundreds of millions of dollars in overtime, expenses and damage to city property.

Once the city's plans for the money are approved by the federal government, officials will do extensive outreach in the city to explain who is eligible for the funds and how to apply.