Build it Back

Post-Sandy disaster recovery program is a “categorical” failure, says former program leader

East News Sustainability
Build it Back home being lifted to prevent future flood damage (NYC DDC / Flickr)
Build it Back home being lifted to prevent future flood damage (NYC DDC / Flickr)

The creator of New York’s post-Sandy rebuilding initiative says the program is an unmitigated disaster.

At a Congressional field hearing yesterday on Staten Island, Brad Gair, former head of Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Recovery Operations, called Build it Back a “categorical” failure at its primary goal of getting homeowners back into their homes in a timely manner.

“From the ‘Road Home’ program in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana to Build it Back in post-Hurricane Sandy New York City, [Housing and Urban Development Community Development and Block Grant Disaster Recovery] programs have generally been categorical failures in supporting timely and effective housing recovery,” Gair testified. “But the root of the problem is that no local or state government, regardless of its capability, can successfully create and setup in a few months what amounts to a multibillion dollar corporation with hundreds of employees and contractors, numerous storefront locations, a broad based marketing campaign and integrated customer service operations while tens of thousands of desperate customers must wait anxiously for help as hope dwindles.”

The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain the efficacy of disaster-relief investments at all levels of government in the New York City metropolitan area, DNAinfo reported. Witnesses discussed how agencies coordinated disaster response, and what lessons Sandy offered for disaster planning going forward. In addition to Gair, six other non-profit leaders and government officials testified, including Daniel A. Zarrilli, the Mayor’s chief resiliency officer.

Those looking for some C-SPAN-level infotainment can view the entire session here:

Gair suggested that government should be creating a-la-carte programs for disaster recovery to save time and money, rather than formulating “patchwork” programs post-disaster. Build it Back gives federal money to single and multi-family homeowners for repairs or reimbursements, funds resiliency projects in public housing, and provides support for other compatible resiliency projects.


In response to Gair’s critique, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office stated that 80 percent of 5,319 approved applicants have either had work done on their homes or received checks from Build it Back. So far, $120 million in reimbursement checks have been sent out, although the program, critics contend, is hampered by mismanagement: Aid was not distributed to homeowners in a timely fashion, and it gave $6.8 million to contractors who performed substandard work, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s 2015 audit.

To close his testimony, Gair issued a scathing critique of disaster management bureaucracy and a lofty call to action:

“We are all here today for the exact same reason that many similar Congressional committees and subcommittees have been convened in the aftermath of virtually every major disaster over the past several decades—the system is broken, everyone is mad, and billions of dollars continue to be wasted. The Post-Katrina Reform Act reformed next to nothing; the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Improvement Act improved far too little. Now let’s try something different. Let’s start over, decide who and how much we want to help, establish a comprehensive policy for disaster resilience and recovery, devise an implementation strategy, build an integrated set of programs that get the job done, and empower our public servants to lead genuine, sustainable, cost effective efforts that restore communities and support families in times of need.”

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