The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has relaxed a rule so that Sandy-damaged homeowners and businesses will be able to seek grant money for repairs instead of having to use government loans.
The change, after lobbying by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other members of Long Island's congressional delegation, means that those who turned down loans from the Small Business Administration, or chose not to use their loans fearing the added debt, will be able to seek the amount in the form of a HUD-funded grant.
Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "New York Rising" program, homeowners and businesses damaged in Sandy can apply for grants to meet recovery needs not otherwise covered by federal assistance, private insurance or other sources. SBA loans must be paid back with interest.
HUD's decision was welcome news Thursday for Jill Lessard, a Long Beach resident.
She first sought a loan of $240,000 to enable her family to rebuild, but after approval, felt fearful of taking on the debt.
"We didn't want to do it unless we needed it," she said recently, referring to taking out the loan.
Lessard said she was dismayed to think "the mere approval" of a loan that would have to be repaid with interest might have counted against her, given the financial strain Sandy has placed on many Long Islanders.
Reached Thursday night, she said HUD's rule revision was "wonderful, wonderful news."
Suzanne Katz-Fox, also of Long Beach, said Federal Emergency Management Agency officials pressed her family to apply for an SBA loan, saying they would not qualify for further federal assistance if they didn't do so.
Katz-Fox, who has two children, ages 2 and 7 months, said the family applied and was approved for a $75,000 loan, but had not yet begun using it because they felt their financial situation was too precarious for loan repayments.
"We're about to lose rental assistance from FEMA, and our house is still too badly damaged to move back in," she said. "We've been kind of paralyzed and didn't know which way to go. At least this gives us hope we may be eligible for assistance under the governor's HUD-funded program."
With Keith Herbert