The city is pumping more money than ever before into administering its Hurricane Sandy recovery program, but after more than a year of lackluster results, administrators say the splurge will turn the program around.
Build It Back officials announced on Sept. 18 that the city would hire more designers and building contractors to expand the program’s construction capacity. Applications for repair work far outpace contractors’ ability to lay bricks, and it is clear the city needs more builders, said a councilman from a hard-hit district.
“It’s obvious there are capacity issues as far as rebuilding work,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island).
The city is set to issue a request for proposals to provide “a dramatic increase in capacity,” program director Amy Peterson said at a press event.
Two weeks ago, the city also revisited contracts with the paper-pushers who process applications and verify applicant eligibility, renegotiating the 2013 contracts from $50 million to $77 million to pay for services exceeding the scope of initial proposal. Despite the higher price tag, the new contracts are actually saving the taxpayers money, according the city, because the old deals inked by then-Mayor Bloomberg allowed the $50-million contracts to balloon to more than $138 million as the cost of doing business rose or if the city required more work than initially proposed, a spokeswoman said. The new agreements also make sure that the contract workers are supervised by city workers.
“By negotiating these contracts down from $138 million to $77 million, we’re able to put the savings back into recovery work while expanding capacity and locking in improvements, such as putting senior city staff in charge of the centers,” said spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick.
Homeowners and politicians blasted the $3.2 billion federally funded program in a March hearing because the program had not actually built anything back nearly two years after it started, and because caseworkers communicated poorly with applicants and even lost sensitive paperwork.
But based on homeowner testimony at a Sept. 18 hearing, Mayor DeBlasio’s administration appears to have exorcised many of those demons with a springtime overhaul of the program, Treyger said.
“They still have to improve on communication, but for the most part, poor communication was not the resounding theme,” he said. “And the city is issuing additional RFPs for contracting work.”
Under DeBlasio, the program has begun fixing more than 573 homes, and reimbursed more than 591 homeowners since January — meeting the mayor’s target to start 500 construction projects and issue 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day. But the Coney Island councilman was careful not to claim any victories just yet.
“Five-hundred is a ‘benchmark’ not a ‘goal,’ ” Tyreger said. “The goal is to help every victim.”