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Bill for co-op/condo federal disaster grants

Co-op and condominium associations would be eligible for federal disaster grants under a proposed new law to be introduced next week.

The proposal by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) has bipartisan support, with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) set to co-sponsor it. The measure is expected to be introduced Tuesday.

Under current law, when a natural disaster strikes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not give grants to repair co-op and condo developments' common property such as boilers and elevators. In contrast, uninsured or underinsured single-family homeowners can get FEMA grants.

The reason for the disparity is that FEMA considers co-op and condo associations to be businesses rather than groups of homeowners. Businesses cannot get FEMA grants, but only loans from the federal Small Business Administration.

In addition, co-op owners typically cannot buy federally subsidized flood insurance for their homes, and the federal government sets a $250,000-per-building cap on the amount of flood insurance co-op complexes can purchase for common property.

"I understand it's an uphill battle," Israel said in an interview. "I'm going to need 218 votes to pass it in the House, and there probably are not 218 members of Congress with co-ops in their district."

Israel said he spent months trying to persuade FEMA and the federal Department of Homeland Security to make grants available to co-op and condominium associations, with no success.

"They told me it would take an act of Congress to do it, so I'm introducing an act of Congress," Israel said. "The hurricane didn't discriminate between homes and co-ops, and neither should FEMA."

King said in a statement that the legislation would correct the "inequity" in FEMA's treatment of single-family homes and co-ops.

A spokeswoman for FEMA did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

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