Federal post-storm aid for co-ops requested

Homeowners from the Anchorage Way Co-Op's gather inside Homeowners from the Anchorage Way Co-Op's gather inside Carmen and Marie Iannotti's damaged condo at the Anchorage Way Co-Op's in Freeport. (Jan. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Sen. Charles Schumer is pressing federal housing officials to give disaster-aid grants to co-op and condominium complexes, to help them rebuild after superstorm Sandy.

The complexes cannot get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair common property such as boilers, due to "inflexible bureaucratic rules," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a news release Wednesday.

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"Forcing Long Island condo and co-op owners to shoulder the burden of millions of dollars of repairs on their own simply isn't right, and the federal government should allow some of the funds from the Sandy aid bill to right this wrong," Schumer said.

Unlike FEMA grants, disaster-aid grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are flexible enough to help co-op and condo complexes rebuild, Schumer said. The housing agency should allow New York state and city to use a portion of their roughly $3.5 billion in Sandy relief grants to aid the complexes, he said. The grants are part of the $50.5 billion Sandy federal relief act signed into law on Jan. 29.

HUD will consider the request, as long as New York includes it in its "action plan" for the grants, an agency spokesman said. State officials have made it clear to HUD that the request will be included in the plan, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

Under FEMA rules, the common property of co-op and condo complexes, such as boilers and electrical systems, are considered the property of the associations that govern the complexes. Those associations are seen as businesses, and they are therefore not eligible for grants, but only loans from the federal Small Business Administration.

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In addition, co-op complexes can get only $250,000 in federal flood insurance for each building, even if the building contains hundreds of units. Due to the restrictions on flood insurance and FEMA grants, residents of co-op complexes say they could pay thousands out-of-pocket for major infrastructure repairs, in addition to the costs of fixing their own homes.

By contrast, single-family homeowners can get FEMA grants to repair items such as boilers and electrical systems, Schumer said.

The storm "didn't differentiate between single-family homes and co-ops when it struck Long Island, and neither should the federal government as it is providing aid," Schumer said.

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FEMA has said it is considering a request by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) to give disaster-aid grants to co-op associations.

Separately, HUD's top official said Wednesday the Federal Housing Administration will fast-track mortgage loan applications by owners of multifamily buildings in New York and New Jersey.

The move is intended to help owners rebuild after superstorm Sandy, refinance their loans or build new complexes in storm-damaged areas, Sean Donovan, HUD secretary, said in a news release.

The fast-tracking applies to owners of rental buildings, as well as the associations that govern co-op complexes, not to individual homeowners, according to HUD.

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