Six years after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the South Shore, elected officials are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to eliminate the New York Rising deadlines for optional and mandatory home elevations and to extend the interim mortgage assistance program for families still displaced from their homes.
Nassau County Legislators Denise Ford and Steve Rhoads were joined by other elected officials and residents in Island Park on Monday for a news conference at which they asked Cuomo to “step up to the plate” and offer assistance to residents still reeling from the 2012 storm.
“Now is the time. Let’s not delay anymore,” Ford said. “Nothing can be better than on the sixth anniversary of Sandy, the state and the federal government say, everybody, we’re going to make changes. Until you all come home, there will be no deadline.”
More than 200 homes in Long Beach are in the process of being raised, Ford said, adding that many homeowners are displaced and continue to pay taxes, mortgage and insurance on their properties while paying rent to live somewhere else.
The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which administers the NY Rising program, has distributed about $1.26 billion to Long Island homeowners since 2014.
Under the current deadlines, mortgage payments made by interim mortgage assistant applicants after Dec. 31 would not be reimbursed, according to GOSR. Applicants who are repairing or elevating must have their houses in the air by Jan. 1.
“Right when people should be looking to try to be able to celebrate [the holidays], they can’t, because too many people, too many elderly, too many families — especially those with young children — are afraid, because where are they going to go in the dead of winter?” Ford asked. “How heartless can we be that we make these types of decisions?”
More than 20 people attended the news conference, including a handful of displaced Sandy victims frustrated with the long process of rebuilding and elevating.
“My house has been in the air since April,” said Seaford resident Dominic Conte, who has been in the program since 2013. “It’s nowhere near done. It’s definitely not going to be done by the end of December. I know I can’t afford to pay rent and a mortgage. I don’t know what I’m going to do if December comes and they don’t extend this program. I’m begging Cuomo to extend the program.”
Ford added that many homeowners were taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors who stole tens of thousands of dollars from them without completing the work. “They can’t get the money back, and prosecution has been slow,” she said.
Officials at the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs said this spring that the office had received more than 185 complaints about Sandy contractors, and investigators were working with residents to address their concerns.
“These are critical, federally funded programs that have given New Yorkers the chance to mitigate the risks of future storms,” said Catie Marshall, a spokeswoman for GOSR. “We continue to urge the federal government to support our Long Island communities and families still in need of relief. Governor Cuomo has directed the Office of Storm Recovery to continue to review all options to assist impacted homeowners.”
In Nassau County, about 1,300 residents are dealing with ongoing repairs, according to GOSR, while about 6,100 repair projects have been closed out. More than 7,400 applicants have been assisted by NY Rising.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“For six years, we pay rent, taxes and insurance on an empty house,” said Oceanside resident Susan Goldstone, who said her contractor breached their agreement and abandoned the job.
Long Beach resident Terri Dunbar is also among those who say they have paid contractors while the work remains unfinished. “I’m out of my house four years, five contractors, seven rentals,” she said in a shaky voice. “I’m a senior citizen, I’ve had open-heart surgery and I can’t pay a $3,000 mortgage and rent, so I need help.”
Mitchell Prussman and his wife, Julia, of Long Beach, were victims of contractor fraud, too, he said, and would need to find another apartment after their lease expires on Dec. 31. “I work three jobs just so that I can pay the extra money,” Prussman said. “We might have to move out of town. That’s really hard on the family.”
“What do they do, Governor Cuomo?” Ford asked. “Let’s hear it from you now. These are your residents. These are New Yorkers. Let’s stand with them, let’s support them and let’s help them.”
Rhoads denounced Cuomo for failing to prioritize New Yorkers. “My criticism is the fact that Governor Cuomo has made five trips to Puerto Rico to review the rescue and recovery efforts down there as a result of the hurricane that they sustained last year,” Rhoads said. “When was the last time the governor has been here on Long Island? When is the last time the governor has been here to meet with Sandy families who are actually the victims going through the recovery efforts in his own backyard?”
Previous NY Rising and interim mortgage assistance deadline extensions, Rhoads said, were the result of a fight, a news conference, numerous phone calls from residents and “having to pull teeth out of the governor’s office to try to get them to act.”
“All of these deadlines seem to be arbitrary,” he continued, adding that, as of now, all home repair work must be completed by June 30. “All of these deadlines are set to do what’s easy for government. They’re not set to do what’s easy for the folks who are actually struggling to recover.”
A few people at the news conference shouted “Amen!” in response.
“That’s why these deadlines need to be done away with entirely,” Rhoads said, “and that’s also why interim mortgage assistance deadlines have to be extended.”