Creator of NYC's Build It Back Says, 'Everybody's Mad'

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lost paperwork, extensive delays, contradictory instructions: New York City’s program to help owners of Sandy-damaged properties became a bureaucratic nightmare for many of the people it was supposed to be helping.

But it was the type of nightmare, according to the man who created the program, that unfortunately has plagued almost every other place that has attempted to rebuild after a hurricane: New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi, etc.

“Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s dissatisfied, just like they are in every one of these disasters,” Brad Gair, the city's former director of Housing Recovery Operations who is now vice president of emergency management and enterprise resilience at NYU Langone Medical Center.

In one of the few media interviews he has given since leaving city government, Gair told WNYC the problems stem from a lack of a national strategy that can rebuild people’s homes quickly, while at the same time minimizing waste and fraud.

“I think if we had an existing, off-the-shelf program that the federal government funded, preferably that we could turn on right after the disaster, we wouldn’t have the same kinds of challenges,” Gair said.

He said federal regulations were lengthy and time-consuming, such as one requiring the city to notify American Indian tribes in case repairs disturbed ancestral remains, and another that forced the city to check with insurance companies to make sure homeowners had not already received sufficient award amounts. 

In the audio player is a condensed version of a 35-minute interview conducted July 2, before revelations that Bloomberg’s successor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, removed a lead contractor as part of an overhaul of the program, called Build it Back, and a critical report on its early months by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  



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Comments [4]

Vic from midland beach

Within a month of Sandy, I >STARTED< meeting with elected officials, agency heads.

NO ONE had any idea how to respond to Sandy's destruction. BUT- best of all EVERY elected official and EVERY bureaucrat (from heads of agencies, NYC, NYS and Federal levels)- every bureaucrat gave victims DIAMETRICALLY DIFFERENT ANWERS to basic questions.

Almost two years after the storm, in NYC, in the USA, in the 21st Century; there are thousands of homeless people paying TWO mortgages, a rent and a mortgage, who are living in sub-standard homes due to storm damage.

TWO years after the storm, victims are still getting DIFFERENT answers.

Where is the cookbook? Where are experts who ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING ????????? Where is institutional memory on what works and what doesn't ???

Brad Gair, you are an idiot. FEMA, Build it Back, et al = you are idiots.

AMERICAN people are hurting, we can send billions overseas to people who chop our heads off, and damaged sandy victims cannot get a straight answer, let alone any REAL (not photo-op) help.

I absolutely >LOVE< when these agencies, charitable organizations, elected officials (you know, people MAKING MONEY off of victims misery) schedule meetings and seminars on Sandy on a workday, during work hours--- so working, homeowning, damaged, taxpayers cannot even make the meetings !!!!

Don't get me started.

Aug. 12 2014 10:25 AM
Sophia from Broad Channel

BTW, we paid for flood insurance and homeowners insurance. There should be no reason whatsoever for us to have to borrow money and drain retirement monies. NONE.

Jul. 27 2014 09:57 AM
Sophia from Broad Channel

My family is still homeless with not one, but TWO mortgages -- we now have the privilege of paying an SBA loan that was approved for us to rebuild, but we still have not gotten disbursements beyond paying back a FEMA grant (yes, a grant) for uncovered contents of our house, and taxes. The bureaucratic nightmare in getting city permits and all the paperwork to meet the qualifications of this loan is ridiculous, it's been my second job. SBA lends money to homeowners and businesses post-disaster; SBA is the lending arm (money maker) of FEMA. These organizations are crippled by regulation, bureaucracy and mediocrity.

Build It Back is not supposed to count income against people in need of help, well, if the SBA loan was accepted, there is no grant money available to you because an SBA L O A N is counted as a benefit! So there is the defacto income disqualifier. I don't for the life of me understand how a LOAN can be considered a benefit when it is debt, crushing debt that is on top of the under-lying mortgage we are forced to keep paying when we can't live in our demolished house. We were required to accept the first two SBA checks to pay back the FEMA grant and taxes or nothing else will be given to us and they would have denied the loan. So, we are considered having accepted the loan because of using the first two checks to pay back the FEMA grant and taxes, and now Build It Back cannot offer us any assistance to off-set that loan because of HUD requirements requiring SBA loan monies to be counted, or we are double-dipping.

Once we are done, our house will be under water again (money-wise this time) by almost a quarter of a million dollars, our monthly payments will be almost $4k, my husband just retired (June 30th) from 33 years of teaching in NYC and has been draining his retirement accounts, he has liver cancer, is on the transplant list for a new liver, and is finishing treatment for hepatitis c, but no one can help us. Not even in getting back the money we were robbed of by a rogue contractor. If we try to walk away, his credit is shot (the house and mortgages are in his name only) and the bank will likely file judgments against him for the rest of his life for the deficit left by foreclosure because there is no house on our property. Then there's bankruptcy. Bankruptcy the year after he's retired and in that case, he'd probably still be required to pay back some percentage of the outstanding mortgage...

Asking the SBA to help us relocate? That would still require satisfying the first mortgage, which keeps us being crushed by all sorts of debt and drastically reduced retirement accounts.

We just want to go home, our home.

Why isn't this a bigger story instead of something to air only when it's a slow news day.

Jul. 27 2014 09:53 AM
anon from nyc

FEMA is the worst bureaucratic nightmare in the world. Hundreds and hundreds of people are hired to say they are helping you--but actually do nothing except check off on lists that they talked to you. Fire half people working for FEMA and have the other report on results-not who they have talked to.

Jul. 27 2014 06:23 AM

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