What to Know
- A couple was given $93,000 after Superstorm Sandy to help rebuild their home — now the program that gave them the money wants it returned
- The couple says the Hempstead Building Department didn't tell them their home needed to be elevated until after they had done the repairs
- The I-team has covered the failure of the town to properly assess homes before, and the department is now subject of a state investigation
Jerry and Betty Salerno are being asked to pay back New York Rising $93,000 and the Seaford residents say they are victims of a bureaucratic mess.
“It’s terrible and it is causing a lot of stress and mental anguish,” said Betty Salerno.
After Superstorm Sandy damaged the first floor of their Seaford home, they learned about New York Rising — a state program designed to provide aid to those recovering from the devasting storm.
In 2014, the Salernos were granted around $93,000 to help repair their home. At the time, elevating the house was an option, but not mandatory. After the work was done and they moved back in, the Salernos received a notice from the Town of Hempstead Building Department, saying they would need to elevate their home because of the flood loss they suffered during Sandy.
“The town should have said it in the first place, but they didn’t,” said Betty Salerno. “Now that we moved back in, I can’t go through this again.”
The town of Hempstead did not perform the substantial damage assessment right after the storm, instead they sent the letter three years after Sandy.
The I-team has covered the failure of the town to properly assess homes before. The building department is now the subject of a state investigation.
Even though NY Rising offered to give the Salernos additional money to elevate the house, they were too daunted by the process — frightened by stories of contractor fraud and fear of being homeless again.
But NY Rising told the I-team any “applicant whose home is determined to be substantially damaged is obligated to elevate in order to maintain an award.” Because the
Salernos chose not to lift their house, they now have to return the repair money.
The Salernos have hired an attorney and enlisted the help of state senator John Brooks.
“In some ways it’s a comedy of errors,” said Brooks. “The communications between the different areas of government were not there. How are they going to be held responsible for not doing what they didn’t know they had to do.”