NYC Rapid Repairs has completed rebuilding work on more than 10,000 residences damaged in superstorm Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg’s office announced this week. Launched by the city under a special arrangement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rapid Repairs dispatches teams of contractors and construction workers to restore heat, electricity and hot water, and to make minor repairs.
In Coney Island, many Rapid Repairs participants aren’t celebrating just yet. They report that the road to getting the free work completed on their homes has been less than efficient, and amply frustrating.
“We can tell by the number of phone calls we get…it’s not running ideally,” said Ashleigh Owens, the communications director for local City Council member Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. Owens said that while Rapid Repairs had been helpful to many people, and workers were “trying to plug the holes as best they can,” the ad-hoc program also appears to be “an overwhelmed system.”
The name of the program may have elevated expectations, Owens suggested. When constituents find out they have to wait several weeks — or, in some cases, even longer — to get Rapid Repairs work completed, “that just doesn’t seem rapid,” she said.
Yvonne Reyes, 43, a lifelong Coney Island resident, is among the homeowners still waiting for work to be completed on her house.
Reyes first signed up for Rapid Repairs in mid-November after the one-story home on West 17th Street where she lived with her father and her 7-year-old son, Marcus, was deluged during Sandy. Storm water filled her basement and rose to the main floor, ruining everything in the house, including the electrical and heating systems.
“We had four feet of water,” Reyes said, gesturing to a wall in her home two blocks from the Coney Island boardwalk. Dust still lingered in the stale air inside the house, and a pile of removed debris filled the backyard.
Reyes said that Rapid Repairs work crews arrived in early December to install a new hot water heater and boiler. After two days of work, a worker came by on the third day and told her two people would be back the following day to hook up the boiler and the water heater, and rewire the electrical outlets.
Six weeks later, Reyes says, Rapid Repairs workers have yet to return.
Peter Spencer, a spokesperson for the mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery, said in an email to the New York World that Rapid Repairs crews take a “block-by-block approach” and aim to complete work in as short a period as possible. When parts or equipment must be ordered to complete the installation and repair work, this can break up the process, he said.
If missing parts were the obstacle in Reyes’ case, she was never told as much. Though Con Edison workers have since hooked up her hot water heater and boiler — a process that Reyes said took all of 20 minutes — she is still waiting on Rapid Repairs for the electrical work. For weeks, she called Rapid Repairs every day to ask when she could expect a crew to return.
“I wake up, I drop my son off at school; when I come back I sit down and I start making calls,” Reyes said in early January.
At one point, she was told workers would arrive between January 8 and 11. The latest she hass heard is that a crew will be by on Monday, January 28.
In the meantime, Reyes has hired her own contractors to do the remaining work on her home, including gutting the walls, replacing the floors, and painting. She had hoped Rapid Repairs would tear down walls — indeed, Spencer, the city spokesperson, confirmed that work crews will remove wet walls and do some mold cleaning. In the end, Reyes decided that she couldn’t wait. Her workers took care of it.
Though Reyes says she’s frustrated at how drawn out and inconsistent the Rapid Repairs process has been, she’s still grateful for the money it’s saving her. Her own team of workers told her that replacing the hot water heater and boiler would have cost her between $10,000 and $15,000 each. As it is, she estimates the work on her home not conducted through Rapid Repairs will cost her $28,000.
A common complaint among Rapid Repairs participants in Coney Island is that multiple crews came to assess the damage to their property.
“If one crew came one day, another crew would show up like three or four days later for the same evaluation process,” Edwin Cosme, a Coney Island property owner said of his experience with Rapid Repairs. “There was no coordination at that level.”
Citywide, the city has brought on nine firms as prime contractors on Rapid Repairs, with five of them tackling projects in Brooklyn. Spencer, the city spokesperson, said that more than 100 subcontractors are working on behalf of those firms, and might do multiple assessments for different types of work. If this was true for Cosme or the other Coney Island homeowners who described frustration of repeated assessments, it was never explained to them. Instead, multiple inspections came across simply redundant to residents.
“They come and do the same thing over and over,” said Julieta Jordan, 70, who owns a home on West 36th Street. “One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.”
Cosme, whose Mermaid Avenue residential building also was fitted with the wrong size pipe at one point in the repair process, complained at a Community Board meeting. The next thing he knew, a representative from the Mayor’s Office greeted him and handed him the contact information for a quality control specialist from a private firm working with Rapid Repairs. Since then, Cosme has had no complaints, and urges other homeowners to make their problems heard loudly.
“It really, really looks bleak for those people who do not voice their concerns,” Cosme said.
Likewise, Ashleigh Owens of Councilmember Recchia’s office recommends that constituents having problems with the program should contact Recchia’s District Office, so that the Councilmember’s team can make Rapid Repairs aware of any issues.
Julieta Jordan’s breakthrough came after weeks of frustration that including Rapid Repairs teams alternately not showing up when they said they would, arriving unannounced and giving Jordan just minutes’ notice before arriving. Earlier this month, a Rapid Repairs crew member working on a nearby house noticed Jordan standing on her porch in the cold, waiting for a team that never came. He talked to Jordan about her frustrations, and informed his supervisor. A work crew followed up.
“They came, they really kept their word and they apologized for any delay,” Jordan said.
Though she wishes things had been better organized from the beginning, Jordan said she was happy with the outcome. Rapid Repairs teams installed a furnace and a hot water heater in Jordan’s house this past weekend, two and a half months after she first signed up for the program.
Jordan’s neighbor, Rocco Brescia, 58, endured similar frustrations with Rapid Repairs. It had been “a long, drawn out process,” he said, adding that the Rapid Repairs crews were really working hard, “busting their backs from early in the morning.”
Brescia wasn’t exactly surprised at the pace of the recovery, he said.
“When this whole thing first started, I told my family that we’re not going to back in the house for 18 months.” He is still anticipating this will be the case, he said.
Chuck Reichenthal, district manager of Community Board 13 in Coney Island, said he had heard from many residents reporting disappointment and general unhappiness with Rapid Repairs since the program began. Reichenthal noted that frustrations with Rapid Repairs are often just one of many storm-related challenges residents face, along with insurance claims and mold remediation.
What’s more, he said, “If you’re waiting and waiting and waiting, even if the job is done right, you tend to have a feeling of dismay. That’s human nature.”
Among those still waiting, said Peter Spencer of the Office of Housing Recovery, are the 1,400 buildings in Brooklyn as of January 21 where Rapid Repairs work has yet to start.
This story was originally published by the New York World.