New York’s home rebuilding effort after Hurricane Sandy is under water — and so is one Brooklyn family who found their home flooded again four years after it was ravaged in the storm due to missteps by the city program.
Amber and Jim Sullivan have been waiting for a year for the Build It Back program to finish work on their Gerritsen Beach home so they can move back in. They encountered delays after the city decided regulations required them to install a sprinkler system in the home.
They were finally planning to move home this weekend — and then workers inadvertently triggered the sprinklers, causing the home to flood. Now, they say the bottom floor has to be gutted, and they don’t know when they’ll be able to return.
“It’s a hot mess, is what it is,” said Amber Sullivan, 40.
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“I just don’t get it. It’s been over a year,” she said. “It’s incompetence. That’s what it is when I think about it.”
The case is just one example of the stumbles that have thrown Build it Back off track, leading Mayor de Blasio to admit last week he would not fulfill his promise to finish the program by the end of this year.
Only 44% of homes in Build It Back are finished. The city says that by the end of the year, 90% of program participants will either have construction underway or have received a check to pay them back for work they funded themselves.
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Officials have not set a new deadline to get the entire program, which now includes about 8,500 homes, completed. Meanwhile, the program has gone $500 million over budget, which city taxpayers are on the hook to make up.
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Sullivan and her family paid out of pocket to fix most of the damage themselves after Sandy flooded the home in 2012. But they turned to Build It Back for help to elevate the house for storm protection to avoid skyrocketing flood insurance premiums, in addition to fixing a bathroom.
The elevation was done quickly, and the couple and their teenage daughter, who have been renting an apartment in Marine Park, Brooklyn, expected to return home in April.
Then red tape got in the way: Officials decided that because of the elevation, the house now counted as three stories, so regulations required a sprinkler system to be installed, Sullivan said.
“We fought them and fought them and fought them on the sprinkler system. They finally said if you stop fighting, you’ll get in faster,” she said. “We finally just threw up our hands.”
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Work dragged on for months, for reasons the family says were never fully explained.
“There’s really been no explanation for our delays,” said Jim Sullivan, 40.
The sprinkler requirement has been one of a slew of regulatory mandates that threw up hurdles to completing the program. Also slowing things down: the need to get permits for demolition, make elevated homes wheelchair accessible, clear up preexisting problems like lead paint and asbestos, and resolve discrepancies with certificates of occupancy
On Thursday, the City Council passed legislation to allow homes to be demolished without the usual permit, and to let repair and elevation work to begin without first resolving unrelated building code violations, in another effort to speed up the process.
Besides regulations, the program has faced a bottleneck because officials tried to move so many homes forward at the same time, but there were only a limited number of architects and contractors who could do the work. Meanwhile, construction costs surged across the industry.
At the Gerritsen Beach home on Melba Court, the Sullivans were finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel when a construction crew putting finishing touches on the home set off the sprinklers, sending water cascading through the floor of an upstairs bedroom into the ground level.
City officials say they quickly got to work repairing the damage, including removing the downstairs ceilings and insulation, and the family should be able to move in by the end of next week.
“We’re working expeditiously to fix that and put them back in their house,” said Build It Back spokesman Matt Viggiano.
The family is skeptical, saying they’ve been given false deadlines before.
“At the rate they’ve been doing work, it could be months,” Jim Sullivan said.
He now regrets even going to the program for help.
“In retrospect, I kind of wish I had just taken out a loan on the house or something and hired my own guy,” he said. “With all the aggravation, the stress, the actual impact on my family’s lives — in my opinion it was a mistake.”
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