I-Team: Head of Build It Back Program Acknowledges Frustration in Rebuilding Sandy-Damaged Homes, Looks Ahead

Walk through the Queens community of Broad Channel with the head of New York’s Build it Back program, and every aspect of the embattled program is crystal clear: there are signs of construction everywhere, but homes are still in limbo.

While walking through the Broad Channel neighborhood with Amy Peterson, a resident shouted out at her, "Look at these people’s houses, look what they’re up against."

Peterson acknowledged "people are frustrated, and that’s what we are here to answer.”

From Sandy-ravaged neighborhoods to City Council hearings, Peterson has heard it all since taking over the program in 2014. 

When Built It Back missed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s self-imposed deadline for rebuilding the Sandy-damaged homes, they blamed a “tangle of bureaucracy” for slow progress in rebuilding.

The program has been facing plenty of complaints, from home renovations that are way past their projected completion dates to homes that have yet to be lifted to homes that have yet to be built.

Peterson says it has been tough to be contractors amid a construction boom.

Other factors slowing progress are the rules and standards the program must adhere to because they are accepting federal funds.

"They told me eight months ago to move out and that we would be back in August," said Anthony LaPorta of Broad Channel.  "But they didn’t even start working on our house till September."

Build it Back is lifting LaPorta’s home for an estimated $845,000.

"I told them, knock it down," said LaPorta. "Knock it down, and rebuild it and they said that’s not how the program works."

Peterson says it's a complex decision to decide when to lift and when to rebuild.

"In the end, the costs are related to the foundation,” explained Peterson, “so the costs are related to the helical piles, the concrete and that exists on an elevation or a rebuild."

In Broad Channel, Peterson says they need approvals from several agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation, before they can move forward.

After the next major storm, Peterson says the city will build it back, but not in the same way that’s been attempted, in which the city manages everything. 

"Part of the next storm, it should be about what a homeowner wants and how you get that benefit to them so they can control their own destiny," said Peterson. 

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