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City Won't Meet 'Build It Back' Deadline for Sandy Repairs, Mayor Admits

By Katie Honan | October 20, 2016 7:57am | Updated on October 24, 2016 8:51am
 An elevated home in the city's Build It Back program.
An elevated home in the city's Build It Back program.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

NEW YORK CITY — The controversial Build It Back program to repair Sandy-damaged homes will not be complete by the end of the year, the mayor says in a new report — blaming a "tangle of bureaucracy" that made construction jobs difficult.

Despite repeatedly reiterating a 2015 promise on the third anniversary​ of Hurricane Sandy that every home would be finished by the end of 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted this week that it won't happen.

"We will fall short of that goal, for which my team and I take personal responsibility," he said in the forward to the 27-page status update, which came out late Wednesday. It's not clear if there is a new deadline for the program.

The status update comes hours before the City Council is set to hold a Thursday oversight meeting on Build It Back's finances after the city added $500 million in federal dollars to the program.

In his letter issued with the report, de Blasio said issues with Build It Back can be traced to "the tangle of bureaucracy" that "made it virtually impossible to get a shovel in the ground."

READ THE CITY'S REPORT

Build It Back Update: Oct. 19, 2016 by DNAinfoNewYork on Scribd

The program, created during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, boasted more than 25,000 applicants by its Oct. 31, 2013 deadline.

But it languished in the first year after de Blasio took office.

After an overhaul in 2015, de Blasio pledged to have every home finished by the end of 2016 — a promise employees within the program said was impossible from the start. 

They boosted construction capacity, and brought in other city agencies to oversee design and construction approval. 

Yet homeowners said they were rushed out of their homes months before work even began. This, multiple sources said, was to make it seem like the mayor's goal was in motion.

A home under construction in Gerritsen Beach collapsed after elevation. At another home in the neighborhood, another homeowner who said the city rushed him out of his house died waiting to move back in.

In an effort to turn things around, the city hired Luis Mendes, a construction professional who most recently worked at the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Despite missing the self-imposed deadline, the acceleration of the program helped it make many strides, the mayor said.

By the end of 2016, 75 percent of the single-family homes in the program should be complete. Nearly all of the single-family homes in the program will be ready to start construction, and 90 percent of the homes will be under construction. 

Of the 8,585 applicants to the program, 84 percent — 7,173 applicants — have seen a reimbursement check or construction start on their home, according to the report. 

Despite progress on single-family homes, work has been even slower on multi-family buildings, which have five or more units.

Of the 242 applicants, only 8 percent have started construction — and 1 percent are completed, according to the report. The latest statistics on the city's Sandy Tracker site had that number at zero before the report came out.

The city's spokesman handling Build It Back, Raul Contreras, did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment for this story.