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Knickerbocker Village Gets $33.5 Million in 'Build it Back' Funds

By Allegra Hobbs | October 2, 2017 1:30pm
 Knickerbocker Village is an affordable housing complex between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
Knickerbocker Village is an affordable housing complex between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

CHINATOWN — A sprawling affordable housing complex hit hard by Hurricane Sandy will get a host of resiliency upgrades after landing a $33.5 million grant through the city's Build it Back program.

Knickerbocker Village, where residents went weeks without running water or electricity after Hurricane Sandy, will get a multi-layered flood protection system to keep its 12 towers dry during future storms, according to representatives of the complex and the city's Housing Preservation and Development department.

Three layers of protection will shelter the buildings, according to Knickerbocker Village — a wall around the complex will be the first line of defense, but if those don't do the job, the interior and basement walls will be replaced with heavy-duty flood-proof walls.

Finally, the basement spaces holding key services destroyed during Sandy — including electrical wiring and the boiler room — will be flood-proofed.

The flood-proofing of the basements is already underway, said Knickerbocker Village's general manager Vincent Callagy, and the entirety of the work will take roughly two years. 

The 1,600-unit complex first applied for resiliency funds in 2013, when HPD gave it $1.46 million for immediate repairs — that money was used to fix the flooded basement and boiler room, replace equipment and install new elevators in the buildings. 

Now, nearing the storm's five-year anniversary, the residence is finally getting the rest of the funds to beef up its resiliency.

Callagy said he had been corresponding with HPD for the past four years about the funds, and that the agency had been working with them throughout that time to ensure the work was done.

"I think there was a dedication throughout from HPD, on behalf of the resiliency project here, and a commitment to making it happen," said Dan Robinson, executive director of Cherry Green Property Corporation, which owns Knickerbocker Village. "HPD was a steward, not just to the community here, but also to the federal funds that it was deploying for this grant, to make sure we had fully vetted and rationalized working with our engineers, the appropriate scope of work at the appropriate cost."

"There's been a lot in the press about difficulties associated with Build it Back, and in the past we haven’t seen those difficulties here," he added.

The program has been fraught with delays and other problems since its 2013 launch. Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015 pledged all work under the program would wrap up by 2016 but when that didn't happen, he blamed it on bureaucracy.

The program's first director last year called it a "categorical failure," noting the process of siphoning approved federal funds is overly long.

Robinson said resiliency was among the chief concerns of Knickerbocker Village residents, and the long-awaited improvements will bring peace of mind.

"It’s come up definitely in many conversations that I’ve had through my engagement with residents," he said. "There's a lot of different things and a lot of different desires, needs and concerns that residents have, but this is always seen as such a fundamental thing for ensuring that ok, we can be confident in the stability of our homes and the security of our homes and turn our attention to quality of life aspects and other things that we can more easily focus on now."