Local officials Thursday decried new deadlines imposed by the New York Rising Housing Recovery Program on owners of homes in flood-prone areas whose optional elevation projects are still not close to completion.
Homeowners face a March 1 deadline to ask for more money for pre-construction design changes. Unforeseen costs during construction wouldn’t be reimbursed until after elevation is complete.
And homeowners now also face an additional Sept. 1 deadline to get an interim inspection showing the elevation is “in progress” or else return grant money, according to a December letter to applicants from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s housing recovery program.
“These deadlines are unrealistic and these deadlines are unfair,” said Nassau County Legis. Steven D. Rhoads (R-Bellmore), standing before a half-elevated house in Freeport and a group of Long Islanders who said that they would be unable to meet the deadlines. The rules “will financially devastate people and force them out of the program. That’s not what NY Rising was set up for.”
Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said, “We’re asking Gov. Cuomo to make sure there are extensions so everyone who deserves a benefit gets a benefit,” adding that the agency shouldn’t be imposing more roadblocks on homeowners who were already “tapped out financially and worn out emotionally.”
NY Rising officials sought to reassure homeowners.
“We are concerned that misinformation regarding the deadline may be causing some homeowners to worry unnecessarily,” Executive Director Lisa Bova-Hiatt of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery said in an email. “No one will be terminated from the program or lose their original elevation award if they fail to comply with the March 1 scope of work change deadline. They will, however, forfeit their opportunity to request additional funding based on their submitted elevation plans.” She said homeowners with questions can call 1-844-9NYRISING.
Storm Recovery Office spokeswoman Catie Marshall said there was some flexibility after the March 1 deadline if the need for more funding was discovered after construction was in progress. But she said the Form 6100 — which documents design changes — couldn’t be submitted for reimbursement until after the elevation was complete.
“As is our practice, every case is reviewed individually,” she said. The Sept. 1 deadline doesn’t require everyone to have lifted their house to continue in the program, she said. While the clearest evidence of progress was that the house was “in the air,” she said, “we evaluate each interim inspection on a case by case basis. If an elevation requires additional site prep work, that might also constitute ‘in progress’.”
Marshall said most applicants had been given ample time and would have “little trouble moving their project along,” noting 90 percent of the 2,280 applicants who haven’t completed elevations have met deadlines for submitting designs and getting permissions and permits. The deadlines were intended to spur the remaining 150 applicants who haven’t, she said.
However, Rhoads and Saladino said many homeowners were not responsible for the delays they encountered as they waited for permits and inspections from backlogged and overwhelmed local governments and for construction start dates from reputable contractors with long waiting lists for elevation projects.
“My office continues to hear from Sandy victims who are trying to navigate a very frustrating process more than four years after the storm,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in a statement. “We must make it as easy as possible for them to get back into their homes, and placing artificial deadlines in their path is unhelpful.”
Dana Camera, 50, an ultrasound technician who spoke at the news conference, said she and her mother, 95, have lived in a rental for four years, and are now awaiting a permit to begin elevating their Long Beach house. Her mother, she said, has dementia and is anxious and confused. “Every night she asks ‘Where are we? Are we going home?’ It’s just hard,” she said.