Carl Teresa drained his retirement savings to pay for Sandy home damages and is tired of getting the runaround from city and state agencies, he said.
Eight months after the storm, south Queens is still not whole, and Teresa said he is just one of many still struggling. Homeowners gathered at a town hall forum in Howard Beach, hosted by Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder and Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, to ask pressing questions that still exist months later.
“You can’t get a straight answer from anybody,” Teresa said. “You talk to one person who has answer A, then another who gives you answer B. Nobody has the same answer.”
Teresa had his Rockaway Park home was inspected three times by FEMA agents before he received money for his damages. The first inspector, he said, left the state without relaying information. The second did not do an accurate inspection, he said, and the third was finally able to get Teresa a $31,900 FEMA assistance grant.
The basement apartment of his two-floor home was destroyed — inundated with over 30 inches of water — he said. The apartment is home to his mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s disease. She relocated to the first floor with Teresa and his wife until the repairs were complete.
Teresa estimated the damages cost him at least $70,000. He is on Social Security disability, and cannot return to work to replace the money lost.
“How do I support myself the rest of my life,” he asked.
Jeffries and Goldfeder advised people in predicaments similar to Teresa’s to register for the city’s Build-it-Back program, which is geared towards assisting homeowners, landlords and tenants whose properties were damaged by Sandy. It offers several pathways to relief, including reimbursement for out-of-pocket payments.
“People shouldn’t be forced to drain their bank accounts and decimate their savings in order to repair a home,” Jeffries said.
The two also discussed updates to FEMA’s flood and evacuation maps. Evacuation zones will be changing from letters to numbers, Zone 1 being the highest priority. Most of Howard Beach will be located in Zone 1, Jeffries said.
A rep from Neighborhood Revitalization NYC was also in attendance to speak about mold treatment. The program, which got cheers from the town hall audience, coordinates mold inspection and fixes free of charge. Members of the city’s Department of Financial Services as well as FEMA were also present to answer individualized questions.
Goldfeder, a notable advocate for Sandy victims since the storm, asked the Department of Environmental Protection to clean out catch basins in the hope to better preparing the area’s sewer system for any future storm.
“It has been a daily, daily struggle,” he said. “Almost every day is a new challenge.”
“Now, we need to make sure we are prepared for the future,” he added.
Those interested in the Build-it-Back program can visit www.nyc.gov/recovery for more information. To see the preliminary flood and evacuation maps, estimated to be released at the end of the summer, go to www.region2coastal.com. For those seeking flood insurance information and agents, visit www.floodsmart.gov.