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Deadline to Rebuild Hurricane Sandy-Damaged Homes Causes Rising Costs

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A plan to fast track the troubled Build it Back program has backfired

Mayor de Blasio's effort to finish rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy seems to have backfired, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The mayor set a new deadline of this December for construction companies to finish rebuilding as part of the Build it Back program. The program was initiated three years ago, just months after the storm, to rebuild thousands of damaged homes, as opposed to distributing grants directly to homeowners. The program struggled along the way, with thousands of people since dropping out due to delays or because they were ineligible.

When de Blasio took over Build it Back from former Mayor Bloomberg, officials estimated they'd spend $1.85 billion to fix, repair, rebuild and reimburse work done on 15,345 single-family homes. In 2015, the city signed three-year contracts with three developers to jumpstart work, including SLSCO, based in Houston, the LiRo Group, a construction management and engineering company, and Tishman Construction. (Only SLSCO had significant experience with small-scale residential construction, according to WSJ.) Soon after that selection, the mayor bumped up the deadline to finish work, telling federal officials he wanted all homes in Build it Back finished by December of this year.

That's caused more problems for the already troubled program. The pressure put on construction companies by the deadline, union wages being paid to the Build it Back workers, and the developer's lack of experience with single-family homes have all caused prices to rise. According to WSJ, "the program’s costs are projected to be up nearly $400 million even as the number of homes has fallen by two-thirds." The average projected cost to repair or rebuild single-family homes in the Build it Back program, at $120,000 in 2014, is now up to about $200,000 this year. In some cases, the city will spend over $600,000 to repair damaged bungalows.

On top of that, developers have pointed out that rebuilding these homes to sustain the next storm is already a complicated, pricy undertaking. There are some people associated with the program that doubt Build it Back can wrap by the end of this year and worry the program will run out of money. But the city says that the deadline will be met.