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Angry Homeowners Vent Frustration at Directors of Sandy Recovery Effort

By Katie Honan | October 7, 2016 5:43pm
 Residents spoke out against the city's Hurricane Sandy recovery at a public hearing Wednesday.
Residents spoke out against the city's Hurricane Sandy recovery at a public hearing Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY PARK — Frustrated homeowners — holding signs that said they were victims of Build It Back — lashed out at two directors of the city’s Hurricane Sandy recovery programs at the first of three public hearings over changes to federal recovery money distribution.

Amy Peterson, the director of the Build It Back program, and Daniel Zarrilli, the senior director of Climate Policy and Programs and the city’s chief resilience officer, presented details to the new plan on Wednesday — which includes shifting $500 million more into the controversial home rebuilding program.

“How many people have brought paperwork in and they’ve lost it?” community activist and district leader Lew Simon asked during his testimony. Nearly every hand in the high school auditorium shot up.

“[Build it Back administrators] get their paycheck and half the people aren’t in their homes yet.”

The hearing is one of three where the city will take public comments on how it is spending its $4.21 billion share in federal aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

There will also be a hearing on Oct. 13 at the Staten Island University Hospital campus, 475 Seaview Ave., and on Oct. 20 at Coney Island Hospital, 2601 Ocean Parkway.

Residents can also submit comments and concerns online.

While the federal money has funded resiliency projects and other recovery programs, the largest chunk of it has gone toward the controversial Build It Back program, which has been problematic since its start at the end of 2013.

Designed as a way to rebuild, repair or elevate homes in neighborhoods effected by the hurricane, it’s fallen way short of its promise. More than half of the homeowners have dropped out of the program. 

Matthew Peres, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, said the city’s plans to rip out the work he’s done on his home in Breezy Point are unnecessarily, and contractors are over-billing the city for basic work.

“What Build It Back is doing is getting every agency to go in there to blow out the cost,” he told DNAinfo New York last week.

And despite a supposed end date, the city has hired Luis Mendes, an executive vice president at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, to help fix the struggling program.

Peterson announced the hiring at a meeting with residents last week.

Joe Daniels, the president of the museum, also announced the move in an email sent to staff this week, which was obtained by DNAinfo.  

“It’s hard to overstate Lou’s impact on this organization and his critical role in leading the creation of  the Memorial and Museum,” he wrote, saying Mendes would take a “lead role” in the recovery and rebuilding program.

“I simply do not believe we would have had the success we have had, in terms of our contribution to the global stage, without Lou."

A spokesman with the Office of Recovery and Resiliency said Mendes would start in a few weeks.

A City Hall spokesman, Raul Contreras, continued to say Mendes's appointment was “incorrect” after DNAinfo broke the news last week.