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De Blasio vows faster rebuilding aid for Sandy victims

Mayor Bill de Blasio jokingly restrains Staten Island

Mayor Bill de Blasio jokingly restrains Staten Island Borough President James Oddo after a reporter asked him a question during a news conference on Thursday, April 17, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

Eighteen months after superstorm Sandy ravaged the region, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that by summer's end 1,000 homes would begin to be rebuilt or their owners sent reimbursement checks for the damage.

That number had been zero -- out of 20,000 claims -- when de Blasio took office Jan. 1, he told reporters Thursday at a news conference in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island. The neighborhood had been hit particularly hard by the 2012 disaster.

"There's been a lot of red tape to hack through," de Blasio said of the "Build-It-Back" program, which started under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and aims to help steer federal disaster dollars to storm victims.

Dozens of Sandy victims cheered as the mayor made the announcements.

Earlier this year, de Blasio had announced he was overhauling the way Sandy money is distributed. He redirected about $100 million in government cash to help victims and removed income-based barriers that, for instance, prioritized poorer victims over those from the middle class.

Hundreds of people will benefit under the change, de Blasio said.

Still, the progress has been slow. As of Thursday, about 30 checks had been sent out and nine "construction starts" had begun, according to a 33-page report de Blasio released Thursday, "One City, Rebuilding Together," on the city's Sandy progress. None of the nine homes being rebuilt are close to finished.

De Blasio said he could not provide a timeline for when all 20,000 claims would be resolved, explaining, "this is a work in progress." Estimates last year from the city were that the 20,000 applications would be processed by 2015.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, speaking at de Blasio's side, ripped into the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the delays.

"For 18 months, Staten Islanders and those folks impacted by the storm have been inundated with words," Oddo said. "Much like the waves inundated them, they've heard from various levels of government lots of words and haven't seen a whole lot of action." Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna declined to comment.

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