Today’s news is filled with stories paying tribute to Hurricane Sandy victims one year after the storm, with more than a few of them chronicling the persisting struggles of rebuilding for homeowners. This DNAinfo piece looks at contractor fraud in the Rockaways. According to the story, contractor fraud runs rampant in areas affected by the storm, with licensed contractors giving inflated estimates, taking money and disappearing, or unlicensed contractors simply taking the money and running. According to a lawyer with the New York Legal Assistance Group, “What happens often, instead of best practices where you get three estimates, people were just starting to do emergency repairs and just assuming whatever insurance was paid out, the contractor would take.” Oftentimes that wasn’t the case, with contractors sometimes charging twice as much than what insurance will pay — in one case, a contractor charged a woman thousands of dollars for materials donated from a relief organization. Because of these problems, a high number of storm victims continue to live in uninhabitable or partially repaired homes. In the year after Sandy, the Department of Consumer Affairs received a total of 600 complaints about contractors.
An article at Queens Courier talks about the insurance claims that have also plagued homeowners of damaged properties. Since the storm the number of complaints to the Department of Financial Services spiked, with residents concerned they are not receiving enough insurance money for repairs. The DFS is scheduling site visits with an adjuster from an insurance company to give sites with insurance issues a second look.
Queens Courier reports that Howard Beach residents held their first meeting this week regarding $18,000,000 given to the neighborhood through the state’s NY Rising Community Reconstruction program. The program provides funds to more than 100 communities severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The community ultimately decides where the funds will go. At the meeting, Howard Beach residents expressed a desire for investing in solar panels, having gasoline on hand for generators, building a central storm hub and strengthening churches and high ground shelters. The community will hold three more meetings before submitting a final plan; the next public meeting is scheduled for November 18th at P.S. 207.
DNAinfo reports tworeopenings in the Rockaways, one year after Hurricane Sandy. Madelaine Chocolate Factory, a family-run company in a 200,000-square-foot headquarters one block from Jamaica Bay, celebrated its reopening this Tuesday. Sandy brought four feet of water into the building — every piece of equipment sustained damage and the company lost $8,000,000 in inventory. According to DNAinfo, the business hiatus and building repairs cost the company approximately $50,000,000 in business. Madelaine resumed limited production over the summer and the owners are hoping to resume full operation as soon as possible. Over in Rockaway Park, Curran’s Superior Meats celebrated its reopening at a new location on Beach 116th Street. The reopening was part of a celebration of businesses fixed up through a pilot program sponsored by Citi and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The family-owned butcher was located in Belle Harbor for 50 years before Hurricane Sandy hit. It officially moved to its new location on Beach 116th Street in June.
Mayoral contenders Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota both visited Queens this weekend, with de Blasio speaking at length about the inequalities in the Far Rockaways both before and after Sandy. The NY Daily News reports that de Blasio said “he’d use federal storm aid to create living-wage jobs for people in storm-hit neighborhoods, and build affordable housing cheap enough for those displaced by the storm to afford.” Lhota, who visited Howard Beach, stressed the need for better infrastructure. According to Newsday, Lhota’s camp accused de Blasio of “blatant political maneuvering” by visiting the neighborhood now and doing little to help residents before running for office. De Blasio, however, does have a record of mobilizing workers after the storm, as well as helping New Yorkers with city, state and federal disaster assistance.
The City Council just passed a resolution asking Congress to make co-op and condos eligible for federal storm recovery grants, reports Queens Courier. Citywide, co-op and condo owners have been denied FEMA grants for property damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The word “co-op” isn’t included in the law, despite no statute banning co-op owners from being eligible for grants. According to the Courier, “Co-op and condos are also categorized as ‘business associations,’ which makes them eligible for federal loans but not grants. It also means they cannot get funds to fix shared spaces like lobbies and roofs.” The measure to amend the law went through Congress in two weeks, and now it’s at a subcommittee on the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Wave reports that work is starting on a collaborative Sandy memorial sculpture in the Rockaways called “Sea Song.” The 16-foot-tall sculpture, planned for the community garden at Beach 59th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, is inspired by “prayer trees” found around the world. The tree-like structure, built from salvaged material left in Sandy’s wake, will be a place for visitors to leave messages and mementos. It’s a collaborative project started by two individuals with the help of local groups and initiatives. They are now hosting public build sessions at 23-04 Cornaga Avenue every Saturday, weather permitting, from 12 to 6 pm. Participants must be at least 16 years but there will be activities for younger kids. They hope to hold an unveiling ceremony in the garden sometime around the one year anniversary of Sandy.
Although the city just released plans to restore and improve the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, damaged by Sandy, there is no timetable and and no plans to build up a protective seawall. DNAinfo attended a community board meeting last night, in which the city presented plans for the $200 million restoration project. FEMA previously recommended constructing a seawall — which would lower the new home-elevation requirements, as well as the cost of flood insurance — but it was not included in preliminary designs. Instead, the city proposed baffle walls and TrapBags along the beach. They also proposed to elevate the boardwalk and place rocks, fill, grasses and vegetation underneath to protect it against a storm surge. Residents expressed anger that the city couldn’t offer an actual timeline for these improvements, and felt a vulnerability to any future storms. The city hopes to begin working on the boardwalk by the end of the year.
Yesterday the City Planning Commission changed zoning laws to allow homeowners to elevate properties in storm areas without violating height restrictions. The Daily News reports that homeowners faced higher insurance bills if they didn’t elevate their properties, but to elevate, some would have to eliminate the top floor of the home to comply with zoning. The new resolution says that storm-related elevation does not count against any neighborhood height restrictions. Now property owners can build as high as 10 feet, although they cannot create any extra living space. They are allowed to use the space underneath their house as a car port or patio. The city also addressed ways to protect commercial properties against future storms, like moving generators and mechanical systems, while keeping the storefronts looking attractive.
Just one hour ago Long Island City residents and local pols celebrated the reopening of Shady Park, which officially opened to the public last week. Shady Park shuttered due to Hurricane Sandy ten months ago; the hurricane took down many of the park’s large trees. Since then, the Parks Department fixed up the swings and both sets of play equipment. Council Member Van Bramer also stated that he will work to bring back the lost trees. See more pictures of the newly-opened park over at LIC Spot and the Friends of Shady Park Facebook. The above photo of today’s ceremony comes from Council Member Van Bramer’s Twitter.
DNAinfo reports that the city will begin demolishing homes in Queens and Staten Island damaged by Sandy, although the city has not yet disclosed addresses for the homes in question. These are structures–a few dozen in total–that the Department of Buildings deemed a safety hazard and in danger of collapse. The city has started talking with building owners and in certain cases they are already making preparations for demo. According to DNAinfo, “Homeowners would still be eligible for assistance in rebuilding or relocating with the NYC Build it Back program if the city demolished their homes.”