After Hurricane Sandy destroyed the Broad Channel home where Ed Phillips lived with his wife and young daughter, he was determined to rebuild.
After all, he grew up in Broad Channel. Practically all of his family and friends live in the close-knit community. There was no other place he wanted to call home.
But, after facing the initial shock that his house had been completely devastated by the storm, he quickly learned that the worst was yet to come: the seemingly never-ending battles with insurance and the city over accessing funding that seemed to be getting strangled in limitless amounts of red tape.
As of now, he still hasn’t been able to rebuild his home and has instead had to renovate his sister’s house in Broad Channel and live there. As for moving back home, Phillips said he had almost given up on the idea.
Which is why when Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced at the end of March that help was on the way for residents impacted by Sandy, Phillips – along with many others in places like South Queens, Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Staten Island – scoffed. Why, after more than 17 months of little to no help from the city, would things change, people asked.
At that time, de Blasio and Schumer announced the city’s newly appointed Hurricane Sandy recovery team, which they said would oversee a sweeping overhaul of the rebuilding process. Additionally, de Blasio said the city would reallocate $100 million to fund the rebuilding of all homes destroyed by Sandy. Until now, many homeowners had been told by the city’s Build It Back program – set up by Mayor Bloomberg to help Sandy victims rebuild – that they make too much money to qualify as a priority for receiving aid from the program, leaving many middle-class families hemorrhaging financially.
And, it appears that change may actually be happening. Build It Back officials told Phillips and his family last week that their house would be rebuilt – though that statement came after city officials said they had, once again, lost the Phillips’ family’s Build It Back paperwork, something that has happened for literally every single Build It Back applicant with whom this newspaper has spoken.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Phillips, who credited Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) with helping him navigate the Build It Back system. He noted that he emailed both the offices of de Blasio and Schumer about his issues accessing help following the storm but has not received any word back from them.
Addabbo too said Build It Back seemed to be turning around – perhaps slowly, but nonetheless improving.
“No one’s gotten serious money yet, but there’s been a better procedure to date,” he said. “I’m more optimistic my people will be helped.”
“I have residents who’ve exhausted all their savings; I have residents still not in their home,” Addabbo continued. “People should be back in their home. They should be given the fiscal help they need.”
On Thursday, de Blasio is expected to give an update about the Sandy recovery experts and discuss further ways to cut red tape.
For Phillips, and thousands of others waiting on help from Build It Back, these pronouncements are worth something when the words become reality – when he finally sees the walls of the house he loves return. When he can walk through a front door and, more than 17 months after Sandy, say, “I’m home.”
By Anna Gustafson