The New York World is following the money from Washington to New York, as billions of dollars of storm recovery and rebuilding funds authorized by Congress flow to the region. We’ll be posting regular updates about how the money is (and isn’t) being spent.
October 10, 2013
More people will soon be eligible for federally funded storm recovery aid
With a $1.7 billion first installment of federal superstorm Sandy recovery aid still mostly unspent, city rebuilding officials informed federal authorities last week that they plan to expand who is eligible to receive grant funds.
If the city’s proposal is approved by the currently shuttered U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, owners of all residential property that suffered damage can seek reimbursement for post-Sandy rebuilding work they’ve paid for out of pocket.
That marks a reversal from the Bloomberg administration’s previous plan, which allowed only work performed by contractors paid directly by the city for the most seriously damaged homes.
While New York State and New Jersey always sought to use the federal funds to repay eager homeowners who began work on their own dime, New York City initially intended to bar reimbursements entirely. After an uproar from elected officials the city relented to allow homeowners to be paid, but only for damage amounting to less than half the appraised value of their home.
Why is this expansion happening now?
The city’s latest reversal was made possible by a decision by HUD this summer to allow a bypass of environmental reviews normally required for major building projects. Members of New York’s congressional delegation had requested such a change from HUD.
What’s in it for renters?
The new plan also will allow the city more discretion in providing rent aid to those displaced by Sandy — a purpose for which it has already been using the federal funds. Previously, households that rejected offered public housing options could not receive rent aid paid for with federal funds. The subsidies will now be open to all displaced households who earn less than half of the New York area median household income, which was $85,900 for a family of four in 2013.
The aid pool is also growing larger for affected businesses. While under the original plan approved by HUD in May only businesses in a FEMA 100-year-flood zone could receive funds to floodproof their buildings, under the new proposal businesses would have to simply demonstrate a “direct or indirect impact” from Sandy.
Besides making more applicants potentially eligible, the revamped spending plan also makes it more likely the city will comply with a requirement set by Congress that at least half of all funds benefit low- and moderate- income people – the city projects that share will now jump to 55 percent. HUD requires at least half of the disaster-relief funds be spent on projects that benefit low- or moderate-income residents.
What else do we know about how New York City will be using the federal funds?
This isn’t the first revamp of the city’s plans. In July, the Bloomberg administration announced it will set aside $174 million for installing surge protections at Coney Island Creek, the South Shore of Staten Island and “Hospital Row” on the east side of Midtown Manhattan — the first time that its plans have specified which flood-prone areas will get fortified first. Another $120 million will go to high-rise apartment and office buildings in financial need.
The city is taking public comments until Thursday, October 10, at midnight. The deadline for applying for assistance from the city’s Build it Back program is October 31.
April 11, 2013
Will I be able to get federal Sandy aid money?
A lot depends on your financial situation, whether you reside in a house or an apartment building, and where you live.
Both the city and state have submitted proposals to the federal government for how they intend to spend about $1.7 billion each in initial grants to help New York recover from superstorm Sandy — the first funds they will see from the $60 billion aid package approved by Congress earlier this year.
But the state and city plans are different from one another in some important ways. (They’re also subject to change before final approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.) By and large, New York City residents will be eligible only for the city’s piece of the aid, not the state’s.
Getting funds to fix up housing is the biggest chunk of both the plans, and both include grants for reconstruction, repairs and protective work for homes and apartment buildings. This money will be available for costs not already covered by other disaster assistance, like insurance or FEMA grants.
City Sandy aid plan submitted to HUD
The state’s plan puts much more money into assisting homeowners than it does to repairing apartment buildings: $663 million for one- and two-family homes, versus $124 million for apartments. The fund for homes includes $171 million for voluntary buyouts of houses that were heavily damaged and in a flood zone, which will be available to state residents throughout the region, including the city.
Homeowners in the city are getting a healthy share of money too: $350 million, or nearly half of the city’s housing funds. According to the city’s application, 25 percent of housing units in areas inundated by the storm are in one- and two-family homes, many of them occupied by renters. Owner-occupied buildings with three or four units are also eligible for this pot of funds, known as NYC Houses. The city expects these funds to assist up to 9,300 households.
Public housing projects will be getting a relatively modest $120 million to install emergency generators and bolster infrastructure. Some 80,000 residents live in buildings that were compromised by the storm, with many suffering destroyed boilers and electric systems.
Because the Sandy funds come in the form of federal Community Development Block Grants, they must primarily benefit low- and moderate-income areas: Both the city and state will have to make sure at least 50 percent of the funding they give away fits the description. The city estimates that as much as two-thirds of the $250 million it has designated for repairing 13,000 privately owned apartments will benefit low- and moderate-income people. And home repairs that would benefit people with the greatest financial need will receive priority in applications for funding.
Where you live will have bearing on your chances of getting funding as well. HUD is requiring that the state dedicate at least 80 percent of its initial allocation to the hardest-hit counties outside the city: Nassau, Suffolk and Rockland. Of the $788 million it’s planning to give out in housing recovery funds, for example, $511 million is expected to go to Nassau County alone.
State Sandy aid plan submitted to HUD
Sen. Charles Schumer has taken issue with the fact that the city plan in its current form will not include reimbursements for individuals who have already paid for repairs to their Sandy-damaged property. (The state plan does.)
At the same time, the city plans to use Community Development Block funds to reimburse itself for nearly $400 million in public services it performed during Sandy and its aftermath. These include the costs of providing emergency services, demolishing damaged buildings, removing debris, inspecting buildings, and safeguarding the city’s water supply. These costs would account for 21 percent of the city’s total Community Development Block Grant allocation — which goes against rules that public service expenditures can only account for 15 percent of the allocation. The city is requesting a waiver.
Both the city and state plans include loans and grants for businesses in need of repairs, renovations and protection against future storms. The state is setting aside money specifically for the hard-hit coastal fishing and seasonal tourism industries. The city is using some of its funds to hold competitions seeking innovative ideas to combat vulnerabilities in its infrastructure and restore economic vitality to devastated areas.
The city is also setting aside $327 million for investments set to be determined after it looks over the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report, expected to be released in May. It will then have to submit a supplemental action plan to HUD, detailing how the money will be used.
Applications for the state’s programs are already available online. The city is not yet accepting applications.