New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Frank Lovece in Board Operations on December 14, 2012
Following any natural disaster, the primary federal agency taking point is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). What it offers is different from the government assistance being negotiated in Washington by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, that $60 billion-plus package being arranged by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan but which must be approved by Congress.
What FEMA Does and Doesn't Do
"Our role is to help make sure people have a safe place to live temporarily," says FEMA spokesperson Ed Conely. "Homeowners and renters who have been impacted by the storm can register with FEMA, and if they're eligible we can help with grants for emergency housing needs and in some cases for personal property and essential personal items lost by the storm." This includes help for both condo unit-owners and co-op shareholders — but not for condo and co-op boards staring at devastated common areas.
Which doesn't mean federal help is not available for those buildings. Indirectly, FEMA is contributing funds to all local affected homeowners and condo / co-op boards in New York City through NYC Rapid Repairs, a free program to help make such Sandy-related emergency repairs as "restoration of heat, power and hot water, and other limited repairs to protect a home from further significant damage," according to the city website.
"FEMA will be helping to reimburse the local governments for their eligible costs, at 75 percent," says Conley. "We're not administering or managing the program — in terms of eligibility, that's being defined by the city and you would not apply directly to FEMA. But indirectly, in terms of covering costs, we're involved." Long Island, similarly, has FEMA's new Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) pilot program.
SBA Loans for Boards and Owners Both
Cooperative housing and condominium associations "can apply as a business for up to $2 million for funds to repair damage to common areas," says Michael Peacock, a spokesperson for the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). Indeed, even apartment owners can borrow up to $200,000 individually to repair or replace their damaged units. Interest rates are low. "Most [co-op and condo] associations are set up as private nonprofits, so the rates for them generally are 3 percent," Peacock says. "For the unit-owners, the rates are generally as low as 1.688 percent for as long as 30 years."
"We've just applied for an SBA loan," says Janie Simmons, board president of Shore View Condominiums, in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Some of that condo's unit-owners have gotten FEMA grants, she says, but since these are for emergency housing and not building repair, she's found that homeowners aren't contributing any part of them toward common-area reconstruction. "All the board can do," she says, "is have an emergency special assessment, a relatively small one of $3,000 or at most $4,000."
Simmons has also been able to take advantage of Rapid Repairs. "I was able to alert other homeowners on the street so they were also able to apply," she says. "Teams would come out and work in neighborhoods — electricians, plumbers, etc. Highly professional, really terrific. First they came in to assess what had to be done, and made it clear what they could do, which is dismantle old water heaters and boilers, take them out and put in new ones. The cost [to the city and FEMA] is going to be about a quarter of a million dollars to help us.
"There is," she says gratefully, "a safety net."
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