Taking on water: Mayor’s pledge to fix all Sandy-damaged homes by 2017 is sunk, victims say

In the zone: Mayor DeBlasio announced a new plan to preserve manufacturing jobs by making developers get a special permit from the city in order to build hotels or storage facilities in industrial business zones.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

He’s in over his head.

Mayor DeBlasio will not make his self-imposed deadline of fixing every home flooded by Hurricane Sandy by year’s end, according to residents of a hard-hit section of Sheepshead Bay where work has barely begun more than three years after the historic storm.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Cliff Bruckenstein, who lives on Webers Court and whose home is slated to go under construction next month. “I don’t think it’s feasible to be done in that short amount of time.”

The city is up against its tight end-of-the-year deadline to fix every home the hurricane damaged — a promise the mayor made last year after re-tooling the struggling and unpopular program in 2014.

“Last year, we were fixing Build it Back – and now we’re finishing it, committing to completing the program and getting families home by the end of next year,” Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced in 2015.

But the city has struggled to even start work in Sheepshead Bay’s “Courts” — below-street-level sections of tightly packed bungalow homes clustered near the Bay. Just one home out of dozens has been elevated as the October storm’s four-year anniversary approaches, because the Courts’ tight passageways — not even large enough for a car — make it tougher to do raise up homes, officials said.

“It’s very difficult to build in such tight spaces, especially elevations,” said agency spokesman Sam Breidbart.

The program aims to fix broken private sewers and elevate all homes on some blocks in one fell swoop, but first it must meet with residents in the fractured neighborhood to formulate a cohesive plan — something that has further delayed work there.

“Ideally, if every neighbor participated, we would actually replace the private sewer and elevate all the homes together, and that’s something we’re really trying to get to do,” Build It Back director Amy Peterson said. “We can do something that’s more collective and more community-based — more than a home here and there.”

The last such community meeting was in September, and officials are planning another some time after May, leaving Build It Back just over six months to complete work if it immediately strikes a deal with residents. Elevations take three to six months to complete, according to Build It Back officials. Workers have raised just one home in the Courts so far, and the resident said that project took 11 months.

Build It Back has fixed 54 homes in Sheepshead Bay so far, and Peterson claims it will repair 54 more in the courts alone by December.

“It’s an aggressive goal — there’s a lot of challenges to doing all of this work — but that’s what we are working towards,” she said.

Another Courts resident who has been waiting more than two years for repairs says the mayor bit off more than he could chew with the deadline, but he believes construction workers have the moxie to make good on Hizzoner’s overblown promise.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in the mayor, but I do have confidence in the people,” said Stanton Road resident Michael Rodriguez. “It’s feasible if they do it the right way and they get the contractors in here collectively.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Low-rise: Nearly four years after Hurricane Sandy, the city has elevated virually no homes in Sheepshead Bay's Courts. Many have listed their homes for sale.
Photo by Angel Zayas

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