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Brooklyn Family Struggles With Home Problems From City's Sandy Fixes

By Katie Honan | May 11, 2016 7:40am
 The Slavins spent 14 months waiting to move back to their Gerritsen Beach home while it was being elevated through the city's Build It Back program. Since moving back home they've found countless issues.
The Slavins spent 14 months waiting to move back to their Gerritsen Beach home while it was being elevated through the city's Build It Back program. Since moving back home they've found countless issues.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

GERRITSEN BEACH — Lauren and Frank Slavin finally moved back to their small bungalow in February after 14 months of work to elevate their home through the city's Build It Back program.

Their home, on a small street near Gerritsen Avenue, flooded during Hurricane Sandy and was one of the first to be selected for a house-lift to help survive future floods.

"We had a lot of laughs here," Lauren Slavin, 60, said of the home they bought in 1990. "That's the only reason I didn't walk away."

READ MORE: City Forced Us From Our Homes for Sandy Fixes Months Ago, Residents Say

On their first night back home, she turned on the shower in her new bathroom.

The water didn't come out.

As they continued to live in the house, the Slavins found many other issues, like the dozens of loose screws and nails still scattered on their property, and cracks in the walls.

The steel external staircases pooled up with water when it rained, even after the contractors came back to screw holes in them for drainage, they said. Rust has started to form around the drainage holes.

Personal items, packed up by the contractor Fitzgerald Construction, also went missing during the move, they said. The company did not respond to a call seeking comment.

But one of the biggest issues is the extreme temperature differences, according to the Slavins.

After a few days they noticed their feet were constantly cold, despite bumping the heat to nearly 70 degrees.

A plumber, using a laser, later found that the lower portion of their home was between 8 and 10 degrees colder than it was higher up due to poor insulation from the lift, they said.

"My whole life revolves around this," Lauren Slavin said of the daily calls to her contractor and Build It Back officials to get the problems fixed. A day before an interview with DNAinfo, she canceled a doctor's appointment and waited hours for a scheduled walk-through with a city official.

He never showed, she said.

"I was doing better without them" said Frank Slavin, 63, a former construction worker.

Rust forming around drainage holes drilled into their steel stairs to prevent water pooling, which could freeze in cold weather. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

The problems — both big and small — have marred the Slavin's return home, and altered their view of the Build It Back program, which they initially encouraged others to sign up for.

They were part of a few dozen homes involved in the first phase of program, which started under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013. 

Three construction companies were awarded a bid to repair one- to four-family homes, with the Rockaway Beach-based Fitzgerald Construction assigned to the Slavin home.

They left in late December 2014 for construction, moving to a trailer in Delaware, which was cheaper than staying in Brooklyn, they said.

While they were originally told the process would take 90 days, it took 14 months. Even with the delays, Lauren Slavin said she initially felt it was the right decision.

Frank Slavin, who worked in construction, inspects underneath his home, where loose wires were left near insulation. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)

Their home needed to be lifted in case of another storm — and this was the only way they could afford it.

But the quality of the work done has left her disappointed and with a constant reminder of what they've gone through since 2012.

Since the program began, it's undergone changes throughout the whole process, with the city's Department of Design and Construction and other agencies signing on to help speed up the process.

"What was I, a guinea pig?" Lauren Slavin said. Crews have come back to do minor fixes but she's concerned about the cracks and insulation.

Build It Back has since changed its process for repairs and elevations, and did not move forward with Fitzgerald Construction once it changed construction managers, according to program director Amy Peterson.

"[Fitzgerald] did a very small number of homes and we did not continue to move forward with them after the initial two years," she said.

The contractors have a year to fix issues, and it's common for construction sites to have lingering issues, she added.

"We have a one-year warranty periods for the homes so we address any issues homeowner raises with us and deal with those on an individual basis," Peterson said.

For Lauren Slavin, she said the grief of the whole process has left her regretting she ever did it.

"You try to be trusting and you try to be patient, because this storm was bigger than all of us," she said. "My fight is to be warm and safe."