New York City has accelerated the rate at which it repairs and rebuilds homes damaged by superstorm Sandy and issues reimbursement checks for such work, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
The city has begun work on 132 projects -- completing 30 of them -- and issued 397 checks totaling more than $6.37 million since he took office on Jan. 1, de Blasio said at a news conference in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The area was hard-hit by Sandy in 2012.
The goal is to start 500 construction projects and issue 500 checks by Labor Day. No construction was begun or checks sent out before Jan. 1.
The city's Build it Back Sandy relief program underwent an overhaul earlier this year that expanded eligibility for applicants, regardless of income, and streamlined the intake process, in part by adding staff to Build It Back and the Department of Buildings, officials said.
"We finally have something in the year 2014 that we never saw in the year 2013: completed homes, people whose lives are whole again," de Blasio said, in a swipe at former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
De Blasio, with several other elected officials, delivered the update on Build It Back's progress in front of the home of Tonyelle Jobity, whose roof, crawl space and boiler room were being fixed. Jobity, 41, had received a reimbursement check for work that she had paid for with her savings and by maxing out credit cards.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said Build It Back stalled under the previous administration.
"The only thing worse than a terrible storm is a flood of bureaucracy that prevents you from returning," he said.
About 20,000 people have applied to the Build It Back program and about 15,000 homes require work, said Amy Peterson, director of the city's Housing Recovery Office. A majority of the work is repairs but many homes need to be elevated and about 750 need to be rebuilt, she said.
De Blasio said he hopes much of the work can be finished this year and next.
Also Thursday, City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an audit showing the Department of Homeless Services in the wake of Sandy improperly paid contractors for ineligible expenses and for services that were never actually received. The agency entered into 20 emergency contracts totaling $19.9 million, though it did not have proper oversight of contractors, Stringer found.
De Blasio said many adjustments have already been made to the agency's operations.