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De Blasio Promises 500 Sandy Reimbursement Checks By Summer's End

 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced changes to the city's Sandy recovery efforts during a press conference on Staten Island on April 17, 2013.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced changes to the city's Sandy recovery efforts during a press conference on Staten Island on April 17, 2013.
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Courtesy of the Mayor's Office/Ed Reed

STATEN ISLAND — Mayor Bill de Blasio is promising hundreds of Hurricane Sandy reimbursement checks will be out the door by summer’s end as part of an overhaul to the city’s rebuilding and recovery efforts, he announced Thursday.

The changes to the Build It Back program come as part of a report recommending numerous ways to speed up, streamline and increase the response to the deadly 2012 hurricane, which many have criticized for not happening fast enough.

“We’ve laid out a blueprint to provide critical financial relief to homeowners and directly engage communities in the rebuilding process — all while continuing our work to ensure a stronger and more resilient New York,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Last month, de Blasio appointed three new officials to head up the newly-created Office of Recovery and Resiliency in an attempt to re-energize the Sandy recovery efforts. The city began work on its first Build It Back-identified house, and released the first batch of reimbursement checks to home owners for repairs at the end of March.

As of April 7, the most recent data, the city had started construction on eight homes — four in Brooklyn and two each in Staten Island out of the nearly 20,000 who applied.  And $15 million out of the $306 million devoted to single family homes had been allocated.

Now, the city is promising to start rebuilidng at least 500 homes under the Build It Back program, and send out 500 reimbursement checks to homeowners who’ve already done work, by this summer’s end, according to the mayor’s office.

Additionally, the Build It Back program, which has come under scrutiny for failing to begin reconstruction on a single home until last month, will expand its staff assisting homeowners.

Homeowners have complained about lost paperwork and numerous delays in the application processs.

The mayor’s office says it will also expand eligibility for home acquisition and reimbursement by eliminating income priority levels, offer water bill relief for vacant homes, and work with the Red Cross to expand rental assistance for undocumented immigrants displaced by Sandy.

While a number of elected officials and community groups praised the plans, others critized the report for lacking substance.

“When it comes to preparing for future extreme weather events, today's report is too short on detail,” said Marcia Bystryn, President of the New York Leauge of Conservation Voters, in a statement. “The creation of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the appointment of experienced staff are important steps forward, but it is unclear what resources the city will devote to their work.

"Perhaps the biggest question is whether Mayor de Blasio will be as committed to preparing for the future as he is to fixing the problems of the past."

City Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio and Councilman Steve Matteo, both of Staten Island, also took issue with the mayor's delays in a joint statement.

“We are happy to see the Mayor has finally come around to support ideas originated on Staten Island that would help Sandy victims — such as acquisition for redevelopment, sending out reimbursement checks, and much needed property tax relief for homeowners who have repaired their homes,” the councilmen wrote.

“We are grateful for his support and look forward to working with our partners in government on all levels to end the press ops and start the work in our Sandy-ravaged neighborhoods.”