NY Rising is making a major change in the way it pays for repairs to storm-damaged homes, altering its compensation schedule to allow an interim 25 percent payment before a project's completion.
The revision, long urged by local officials and grassroots advocates for storm victims, is a significant departure from the process in place since the state agency was founded in 2013, about six months after superstorm Sandy.
Up to 1,800 people -- with 95 percent of those on Long Island -- are eligible for interim payments under the new system and will receive notices about how to apply via email as soon as next week, said Jamie Rubin, executive director of the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery.
Currently, NY Rising gives property owners 50 percent of the total cost when repairs begin and 50 percent at completion.
Going forward, homeowners who meet certain criteria will get 50 percent upfront, 25 percent after the first payment is used and substantial work has been done, and the final 25 percent when repairs are finished.
Cathy Corbett of Island Park, whose five-bedroom house was flooded during superstorm Sandy, was overjoyed Thursday to learn of the change.
"This will make a gigantic difference," she said from her three-bedroom rental, also in Island Park. "I don't know if it would bring us home, but it will bring a lot of us closer to home."
Repairs on the Corbetts' house on Waterford Road were halted in July, she said. The contractor did as much work as he could with the money she had received from NY Rising, but "not one hammer has been hit since then because we ran out of money," Corbett said.
Word of the new interim payment -- which had to be cleared by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development -- was well-received by other homeowners, contractors, local politicians and administrators of the state agencies distributing the funds.
"We wanted to get as much money into the hands of homeowners as we possibly could," Rubin said. "So we proposed to do some kind of interim payment plan, and we spent a lot of time trying to convince the federal government to do it. The 50-50 plan was novel for them. We talk to the HUD folks all the time, and this time we were able to convince them."
Some details of the change
To receive interim payments of between $1,000 and $10,000, homeowners must show substantial progress in construction with funds issued so far. For those receiving more than $10,000, an inspection of the property by state-certified contractors will be required to verify the progress.
Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) spoke to HUD Secretary Julian Castro in October about speeding up payments to Sandy victims. At the time, Castro was touring Pacific Street in Lindenhurst to observe the first demolition of a home in Suffolk County under NY Rising's acquisition program.
"He asked me, 'What can we do?' " McCaffrey said, recalling the visit. "I said, 'The best thing you can do right now is expedite those [repair] payments.' "
McCaffrey was not the only elected official to raise the issue.
In Nassau, Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said he lobbied on behalf of his constituents to Rubin and others in Albany and ran on the issue during election season in the fall.
Going door-to-door, he said, "the number one complaint I heard was that 50-50 was not working. People were not in their homes, or living in one room of their homes, because they didn't have the funds to complete the projects. So today is a very positive step forward."
General contractor Ben Jackson of Freeport said it will relieve a "tremendous" problem. Jackson said his firm has $4.2 million in contracts for repairs and reconstruction for clients in the NY Rising program -- many of whom cannot pay him.
"I have held from the beginning that no contractors on any end of the industry operate this way, and as smaller contractors we cannot possibly carry the weight of this," Jackson said. "This has put the burden on the homeowner and has stopped quite a few dead in their tracks. I hope this will help quite a few people in getting started on their projects."
Kevin Reilly of Long Beach said he just received a check on Wednesday from NY Rising for the first 50 percent of the cost of repairs to his Barnes Street home. He said he was happy to hear he may be eligible for the interim 25 percent payment.
Homeowners who have linked up with him online and through his organization, Long Beach Rising, are ecstatic, he said.
"The overall reaction I am getting . . . is that it's a long time coming, and it will ease the concerns a lot of people have about being able to get through this," he said, crediting Kaminsky and others for their efforts. "It's a step in the right direction. The folks at NY Rising came through. This is a very good thing for us."