By Jennifer Peltz
Grants for homeowners to fix their properties, spending to install generators at public housing complexes and competitions to create new storm-resilience technology are among the city's plans for some of its federal Superstorm Sandy aid money, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday.
The city also envisions nearly $200 million in grants and loans for storm-struck businesses and a $40 million contest for utilities to harden power, fuel and phone networks against storms, he said as officials began detailing how they intend to use the city's share of the more than $50 billion, multi-state Sandy recovery package Congress approved last month.
The plans aired Wednesday concern just a first slice: nearly $1.8 billion for the city in what are known as community development block grants, which generally have to be used for affordable housing, job-creation and social services. City officials expect to get more money — they're not yet sure exactly how much — for purposes ranging from rebuilding roads to reimbursing city workers' overtime.
But the first chunk "is real money, and it's really going to make a big difference in our city," Bloomberg said.
The plans need approval from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, headed by former New York City housing chief Shaun Donovan. City officials are optimistic about getting the OK and hope to have the programs started by late April or early May.
— $350 million for up to 9,300 low-to-middle-income homeowners to fix damage beyond what can be addressed by the city's Rapid Repairs program, which sends contractors into homes for electrical repairs and other basic work needed to make them habitable. It has fixed up 16,000 homes and apartments so far and has about 1,000 more to go, Bloomberg said.
— $250 million for apartment buildings that are habitable but still need significant repairs. The money would be spread among buildings that encompass nearly 13,000 low-to-middle-income apartments.
— $120 million for generators and other measures to make public housing more resistant to future storms.
— Loans of up to $150,000 and grants of up to $60,000 — some $80 million in all — for businesses to recover from the effects of Sandy, which flooded 13,000 enterprises and knocked out power to about 75,000. The city started its own $10 million business aid program shortly after the Oct. 29 storm, but that money is running out, Bloomberg said.
— $100 million in to help businesses make themselves more resilient to future storms, through grants of up to $100,000 for small businesses and up to $1 million for large ones.
There are also contests. Bloomberg likes competitions as a way to bring forth new ideas, and his administration has launched them in realms ranging from designing micro-apartments to choosing an institution to create a technology-focused graduate school.
Plans for post-Sandy contests include a $5 million competition for flood-proofing and other storm-resiliency technology, the $40 million contest for utilities and a $100 million competition aimed at attracting companies or otherwise spurring economic development in storm-struck sections of lower Manhattan and coastal Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to use up to $400 million of the state's portion of the Sandy money to buy and demolish wrecked homes and preserve the land. Bloomberg said that may well be a good idea for the state to pursue, but the city is focusing on trying to return people to their homes.
"That's what most people want to do, we believe," he said.