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New York starts buying Sandy-damaged LI homes

Michele Mittleman stands in the vacant Freeport lot

Michele Mittleman stands in the vacant Freeport lot where her home once stood on June 5, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

New York has begun purchasing Sandy-damaged Long Island homes, more than a year and a half after the devastating storm made landfall.

NY Rising, the agency that is providing federal funds to help communities recover from the Oct. 29, 2012, superstorm, closed on its first 34 home purchases last month.

It plans to hire a company this month to auction off some of those homes, along with hundreds of others. The homes will be repaired -- or built anew, if they were destroyed -- in ways that make them resistant to future storms.

Altogether, NY Rising has offered to buy 470 homes in Nassau and Suffolk, at an average price of $360,000, a spokeswoman said. The state is reviewing applications by another 469 homeowners. It expects to complete the purchases within a year. No more applications for home purchases are being accepted.

Of the 34 homes purchased so far, 18 are in the "buyout" program, in which the state pays prestorm value plus an incentive of up to 15 percent. Those properties will be left undeveloped, to serve as storm buffers. NY Rising has received buyout applications from 185 Suffolk homeowners, and it has made offers on 115 homes, for $40 million total.

The other 16 homes are "acquisitions," for which the state paid prestorm values. Those homes are expected to be sold and then rebuilt so they can weather future storms. The state has offered $80 million for acquisitions of 176 homes in Nassau County and $77 million for 179 homes in Suffolk. More than 750 homeowners have applied, about evenly split between the two counties.

The prices have been fair, but "the program is just moving way too slowly," said Michele Mittleman, an attorney who founded a 946-member Facebook group for Sandy victims.

Since the storm, Mittleman has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in Westbury with her boyfriend, Stephen Parke, and her 12-year-old son. Parke's Freeport property was acquired by the state last month.

Since its formation a year ago, NY Rising has "moved aggressively to work with homeowners to ensure that we provide them with a fair price and comply with federal regulations," spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said in a statement.

Companies have until June 13 to apply to inspect and auction off the homes. The sales will begin in the fall, Brancaccio said. The Long Island Builders Institute, a trade group representing local developers, told its members last week that the Blackstone Group, a Manhattan-based private equity giant, has expressed interest in hiring local companies to inspect the homes.

A Blackstone spokeswoman declined to comment.

So far, about 15 local companies have contacted the Islandia-based builders group about the inspections, said Mitch Pally, the group's chief executive.

"There are enough big developers and builders on Long Island that could do this work, and I hope there's interest in it," said Artie Cipoletti, chief executive of DaVinci Construction of Wantagh and West Bay Shore and president of the local builders group.

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