Fire rips through Hurricane Sandy-devasted home in Build it Back program

March 7, 2017.

Fire marshals are investigating a blaze that broke out in a Lester Court home in Gerritsen Beach on March 1, devastating a family who was almost set to move back in after the city’s housing recovery program Build it Back rebuilt it from scratch.

The tragedy is a flashback to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home along with everything inside — but this time, the family is grateful that all they lost was time, said homeowner Daniel Cepeda.

“I know my wife is pretty heartbroken, so am I, we were just so close. We’ve been out of the house going on 14 months almost, so it’s been a long ride — just being so close and knowing what was going to be happening in the next month or so, having that idea in the back of your mind, that crushes you,” he said. “We didn’t lose anything, and I think my wife puts it the best, ‘We didn’t lose anything but time.’”

Sixty firefighters arrived at the home between Madoc and Noel avenues at 11:20 am, and had everything under control by 11:59 am, a Fire Department spokesman said. The fire was on the second floor and extended into the attic, he said. Two firefighters sustained non-life threatening injuries and were not taken to the hospital, the spokesman said.

Workers were inside the house during the time of the fire doing general interior construction, according to a Build it Back spokesman, and once the fire marshals finish up the investigation, the city will determine the work that’s needed to be done to get the family finally back into their new home.

“We are working closely with FDNY, which is working to determine the cause of the fire,” said Matt Viggiano. “We will ensure that these homeowners return to a resilient and safe home as soon as possible.”

Read more here. 

Workers tried to cover up role in Build It Back home collapse, report says

Nov. 25, 2016.

The city fired contractors responsible for a house collapse in Gerritsen Beach earlier this year after finding that the workers skirted safety rules, fudged time sheets, and apparently lied to investigators about it.

The entire second floor of a two-story Beacon Court home toppled over on June 22 — one day after contractors for the city’s Build It Back home-reconstruction program set the structure atop a new foundation — because workers removed temporary bracing when they were not supposed to.

The city hired construction manager Liro Group to elevate the house — part of a $275-million contract with the Long Island company to raise and repair Sandy-damaged Brooklyn homes. Builders raised the house and set it on its new frame on June 21. But workers from W.A. Building Movers and Contractors — one of three subcontractors Liro hired for the project — removed temporary bracing before the building was secure, leading to the collapse, according to a Department of Investigation report obtained by this paper.

W.A. Building Movers tried to pin it on another subcontractor, but video from adjacent buildings and worker testimony proved they were not telling the truth, the report states.

Moreover, Liro construction manager Dreu Beers failed to warn W.A. Building Movers not to take out the bracing, and he tried to cover his tracks by telling investigators that he issued such a warning — even though none of the 14 people the city interviewed could back him up on that claim, according to the report.

“The occurrence of a meeting or discussion specific to not removing bracing with Mr. Beers was not corroborat­ed,” it states.

Officials also determined that inspector Ahmed Fouad Aboutayesh of HAKS Engineers, Architects, and Land Surveyors lied about being on site when the home was lowered onto its supports — and that project manager Daniel Waldrop of general contractor DSW Homes was the last to leave the construction site before the collapse and should have checked to see that bracing was in place.

W.A. Building Movers, Waldrop, Beers, and Aboutayesh have all been booted from working for Build It Back, a spokesman said.

Read more here.

Contractor: ‘My careless workers caused Sandy-damaged home to topple’

June 23, 2016.

This time, it didn’t take a hurricane.

A Gerritsen Beach house collapsed yesterday when contractors for the city’s struggling Build It Back storm-recovery program didn’t follow safety procedures, officials said. Now the construction company, which is responsible for repairing and elevating hundreds of Brooklyn homes, has halted work borough-wide to do inspections, its chief executive said.

“Unfortunat­ely today, work that was not scheduled to be done was done. The safety people that were supposed to have been there were not there … that obviously is a problem,” said Luis Tormenta of Long Island-based contractor LiRos Group, which has a $275-million contract with the city-run, federally funded Build It Back to fix more than 600 hurricane-damaged Brooklyn homes.

The second floor of a two-story house at 70 Beacon Ct. toppled on June 22 — just one day after workers set it atop the rest of the structure, a Build It Back spokesman said.

The program has been ramping up repair efforts recently to make good on Mayor DeBlasio’s promise to fix all participating homes by the end of the year — a goal he will almost certainly not reach, because construction takes three to six months and has yet to begin in sections of Sheepshead Bay, where the city must hammer out a deal with residents on streets it does not provide with sewer service.

But work has sped along recently in Gerritsen Beach — so much that some residents complained Build It Back was doing too much, an unheard-of gripe about the notoriously slow program.

The home’s collapse is a blow to the city, which considered the neighborhood’s reconstruction pace a success story, program director Amy Peterson told a previously scheduled town hall in Gerritsen Beach.


Read more here. 

Recovery road block: Build It Back prevents bus from taking autistic kid to school

June 9, 2016

The city must reign in disaster-recovery contractors who are flooding Gerritsen Beach’s streets with trucks and dumpsters and ruining locals’ quality of life, residents say.

Build It Back construction within the peninsular neighborhood’s famously narrow streets has made it difficult for residents to get in or out of its many dead-end blocks, Beachers say. And the congestion is so bad that a school bus for special-needs kids can’t reach a 3-year-old autistic boy living there — forcing him to forgo a week of school, according to his mom.

“He can’t get on the bus, he can’t get off the bus, the therapist can’t get to the house,” Kay Court resident Dawn Santiago said of her son Logan. “Any type of change in his schedule sets him off, so the fact that the bus doesn’t come to the house and we have to walk to the bus, he doesn’t know what’s going on, and it causes a meltdown for him.”

Even missing a few days can undo progress teachers have made helping him learn to live with the condition — which typically includes social and linguistic impairment, over-sensitivity to unfamiliar stimuli, and a predilection to repetitive behavior — his mom said.

“It’s a scary thought to have to think about — my son needs a steady schedule with this autism, he needs to go to school, he needs to be there.”

The construction has been a thorn in Gerritsen Beachers’ sides for months, but it has gotten worse as the city ramps up repairs in an attempt to meet Mayor DeBlasio’s self-imposed deadline of fixing every Sandy-damaged home by year’s end, said Santiago, whose home is not being repaired under the program.

“It’s gotten worse within the last month, only because now we have more houses that they are raising. The whole neighborhood’s just going up at once, more problems with more dumpsters. The dumpsters are too big for our neighborhood, a fire engine, an ambulance can’t get through.”

Careless contractors even park in front of people’s front gates, blocking them in their homes, Santiago said.

Read more here.

Taking on water: Mayor’s pledge to fix all Sandy-damaged homes by 2017 is sunk, victims say

April 26, 2016

He’s in over his head.

Mayor DeBlasio will not make his self-imposed deadline of fixing every home flooded by Hurricane Sandy by year’s end, according to residents of a hard-hit section of Sheepshead Bay where work has barely begun more than three years after the historic storm.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Cliff Bruckenstein, who lives on Webers Court and whose home is slated to go under construction next month. “I don’t think it’s feasible to be done in that short amount of time.”

The city is up against its tight end-of-the-year deadline to fix every home the hurricane damaged — a promise the mayor made last year after re-tooling the struggling and unpopular program in 2014.

“Last year, we were fixing Build it Back – and now we’re finishing it, committing to completing the program and getting families home by the end of next year,” Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced in 2015.

But the city has struggled to even start work in Sheepshead Bay’s “Courts” — below-street-level sections of tightly packed bungalow homes clustered near the Bay. Just one home out of dozens has been elevated as the October storm’s four-year anniversary approaches, because the Courts’ tight passageways — not even large enough for a car — make it tougher to do raise up homes, officials said.

“It’s very difficult to build in such tight spaces, especially elevations,” said agency spokesman Sam Breidbart.

The program aims to fix broken private sewers and elevate all homes on some blocks in one fell swoop, but first it must meet with residents in the fractured neighborhood to formulate a cohesive plan — something that has further delayed work there.

“Ideally, if every neighbor participated, we would actually replace the private sewer and elevate all the homes together, and that’s something we’re really trying to get to do,” Build It Back director Amy Peterson said. “We can do something that’s more collective and more community-based — more than a home here and there.”

The last such community meeting was in September, and officials are planning another some time after May, leaving Build It Back just over six months to complete work if it immediately strikes a deal with residents. Elevations take three to six months to complete, according to Build It Back officials. Workers have raised just one home in the Courts so far, and the resident said that project took 11 months.

Read more here.

City’s troubled storm-recovery program gets taxpayer bail-out

Oct. 21, 2016

One week before the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Mayor DeBlasio admitted he won’t make his own self-imposed deadline to fix all the homes the storm destroyed by the end of the year — and that the troubled Build it Back storm-recovery program needs taxpayers to bail it out to the tune of $500 million. Officials took much of the money from the city’s capital budget — which means New Yorkers will have to cough up more tax dollars to replenish municipal coffers if the city wants to finish the projects whose funding is now being used for Build It Back, one critical councilman said during an Oct. 20 hearing.

“That money that was shifted to fund resiliency projects did not come from thin air. It came from somewhere, and it does have an impact on an agency. It does have an impact on whatever project we are looking to complete,” said Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), chairman of Council’s Committee on Resiliency and Recovery, during an Oct. 20 hearing.

The city is getting the money from two places — $150 million in federal funds set aside right after the storm, and $350 million from the city’s capital budget, which is funded by taxpayers and would otherwise pay for storm-resiliency improvements to city hospitals, fire stations, and the Department of Environmental Protection.

But officials claim that moving the money will somehow not affect the projects that the cash was supposed to pay for and pledge to first use the federal money before dipping into the dough meant for hospitals and fire houses.

“No project is losing a single dollar, and the capital budget is not changing, only changing where the funding is coming from,” said a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. “There’s no impact. Nothing’s losing any money, nothing’s being delayed. We will use [Federal Emergency Management Administration] funding first, so it is very likely we will not end up touching this money this year, but we are recommitting funds out of an abundance of caution to ensure there are no funding gaps.”

DeBlasio previously pledged that Build It Back would complete rebuilding single-family homes by the end of the year, a promise many debunked more than six months ago. But the mayor rushed to complete work anyway, in some cases to the detriment of storm victims.

Read more here.