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Residents Left in 'No Man's Land' by City's Plan for Sandy Money

By Nicholas Rizzi | April 2, 2013 10:45am

NEW DORP — Many Staten Islanders whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy said the city's plan for doling out federal grants leaves them out in the cold.

At a community meeting Monday about the city's proposal, hosted by the Staten Island Community and Interfaith Long Term Disaster Recovery Organization, residents were allowed to submit questions for city representatives.

The focus was on the housing-recovery portion of the city's plans, where $720 million of the first in $1.7 billion of federal aid will go to.

For single- and two-family homes hardest hit by the storm, the plan allots $350 million for grants to help rebuild, and in some cases demolish homes and start fresh.

Some owners may also need to raise their homes to new FEMA elevation levels, said Peter Spencer, director of communications for the mayor's Office of Housing Recovery Operations.

“With this first run, we want to make sure we get to those who need it the most first,” Spencer said at the meeting.

Owners who suffered substantial damage to their homes, or if the cost to rebuild is more than half the property's value, would receive grants and help under the city's plan.

But many residents said that distinction leaves out many Staten Islanders still struggling to rebuild.

Maria Gasenfitter, 50, of Midland Beach, said by making repairs to her house, she has run out of money and can’t afford to elevate her home to the new standards.

“Anyone who has under 50 percent of damage, still has a massive amount of damage,” she said. “They're not going to be covered by this grant to fix, they're not going to be covered by this grant to raise."

Brad Gair, director of the Office of Housing Recovery Operations, said grants will be available to help pay for repairs by homeowners with less than 50-percent damage.

But some improvements, including elevations, would be too costly, Gair said.

“We just don’t have enough money to do that,” he said. “We have to start with those that have substantial damages and see where we go from there.”

Gasenfitter said many of the people in the room faced similar situations. She said the plan leaves them out.

“Those people who don’t make enough money to be able to do this stuff themselves, but make too much money to qualify for anything, they're the ones that are stuck in no-man’s land,” she said.

“You don’t get help.”

Farid Kader, who started the Yellow Boots recovery volunteer group, said his aunt and uncle paid out-of-pocket to fix their South Beach home after the storm so they can live in it again, but now can’t afford to keep going with repairs.

“They tried to put every last dime they had into their homes to live there,” Kader said. “If they’re telling me they’re not going to reimburse for that, it’s just not right at all.”

The meeting was a way to ask questions of representatives about the city’s almost 200-page Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Action Plan A, which was released last week.

The meeting’s organizers also collected comments from attendees to submit to city planners before the final plan is sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Scott McGrath, 45, who works at Con Ed and helped start Beacon of Hope New York, agreed that the proposed plan leaves out many Sandy victims.

But he said he's doubtful the residents' complaints will prompt the city to make changes to Action Plan A.

“It’s already pre-set,” McGrath said.

The deadline to submit comments and suggestions is Thursday.