As the fourth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, Mayor Bill de Blasio has conceded that the city’s program to rebuild damaged single-family homes – known as Build it Back – will not meet its end-of-2016 deadline.
The mayor wrote, in a letter attached to a Build It Back progress report, that he and his team “take personal responsibility” for falling short of the goal. According to the report, 90 percent of Build It Back homes have started rebuilding, and work will begin on the remainder before the end of the year. Construction on 75 percent of homes will be complete before 2017.
The mayor’s admission isn’t really much of a surprise. Critics, including elected officials, had chided de Blasio’s timeline from the start, calling it “impossible” to meet. Mayor Michael Bloomberg assembled Build It Back in 2013; it was beleaguered from its start, with application issues and bureaucratic red tape delaying progress. Mayor de Blasio finally overhauled the program last year, but its overly ambitious deadlines put the crunch on homeowners.
The report was released in anticipation of a City Council hearing on Thursday about another big issue with Build it Back — lack of money. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that program cost overruns would require an additional $500 million. That will bring the total bill for Build It Back to $2.2 billion — up from the original budget of $1.7 billion when the program first started. That half-a-billion-dollar increase comes despite Build It Back actually serving less than half — 8,500 households — of the estimated 22,000 applicants.
Build It Back was fully funded by the federal government, but according to The Wall Street Journal, shortfalls have forced the de Blasio administration to dip into city coffers to fund the initiative with taxpayer dollars, some of which were reportedly earmarked for storm protections to mitigate the effects of the next monster storm.
City Council members on the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency blasted the de Blasio administration at the hearing Thursday:
The de Blasio administration said before the hearing, per The Wall Street Journal, that it won’t have to cut any programs to gin up the money, part of which will come from the 2017 capital budget (about $350 million) and from the expense budget ($150 million). Where exactly in those budgets that $500 million is coming from it still unclear, though the Journal cites an administration official who said about $65 million would be reallocated from federal disaster relief funding intended for the city’s public hospitals.
Amy Peterson, the director of Build It Back, testified Thursday that the program is now giving homeowners incentives to sell their homes to New York State, rather than rebuild — in part to speed up the program’s completion. Still, Gothamist reports that the administration did not provide an updated deadline for Build It Back. “We will come and let you know in November what the timeline is,” Peterson said.