Building it back

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Better late than never.

More than two years after Hurricane Sandy, some Gerritsen Beach locals in the city’s Build It Back Sandy recovery program are finally getting their homes elevated or rebuilt, which one local said is much better than last year’s anniversary.

The longtime Gerritsen Beach resident, whose home is scheduled to be demolished next week and then rebuilt at a higher elevation, said the program has improved dramatically under the DeBlasio administration.

“The program has been outstanding,” said David Velez, who lives in Gerritsen Beach. “With the Bloomberg administration, the program was horrible — Bloomberg didn’t care.”

By October, almost 400 Brooklyn homeowners have received reimbursements totaling nearly $6 million for work already done, and Build It Back contractors have started work on nearly 200 Brooklyn homes, with 36 projects already complete, according to city data.

Mayor DeBlasio recently vowed that by the end of 2014, there would be 1,000 construction starts and 1,500 reimbursement checks received citywide.

But a local elected official whose district suffered severely from Sandy, said the rebuilding process still has plenty of room for improvement.

“We must continue to find ways to build capacity to speed up the process on behalf of the thousands still in need of help,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), who heads the Council committee that oversees Build It Back. “I am pleased that issues residents have raised during our hearings are being addressed, and I ask the Mayor’s Office to maintain the sense of urgency felt by those still waiting to return home or receive a reimbursement check two years later.”

And Velez said that rebuilding his home — and his life — isn’t suddenly simple just because the recovery program is working better under the new administration. The need for individual homeowners to work with multiple government agencies is still adding unnecessary delays to the demolition because the departments refuse to coordinate their programs, he said.

“That is the biggest hold up of this thing,” he said. “All these department commissioners need to push their egos aside and work together with Build It Back. It’s all about bureaucracy.”

Velez also said his family — who is currently staying with relatives — is not being reimbursed for the extensive renovations they added to their home after Sandy, before they knew they’d have to rebuild. It is an issue he said he couldn’t negotiate with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which he said only covers the basic cost of a home, even though the department acknowledged his special circumstances.

“When it comes to HPD and the contractors, there’s no negotiation,” he said. “I was one of their supposedly special cases, they could have made the repairs equal. We’re not getting that $100,000 back — that’s washed.”

Velez was told that once house is demolished, his new home would be completed in just four months, but he said he isn’t planning on moving in until late spring.

“I don’t think it’s going to be four months,” he said. “I’m looking at, realistically, five to six months.”

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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