Frank Lovece in Board Operations on January 11, 2013
"The fact that current FEMA policy only makes co-ops eligible to receive loans, not grants, is a disgrace," New York State Sen. Tony Avella said in a statement, referring to ongoing recovery efforts in the wake of superstorm Sandy. "As a result of this policy, the costs of recovering from this devastating storm will be borne by many middle class co-op shareholders. The storm did not discriminate between co-ops and residential homes and neither should the federal government.
"It seems clear that FEMA's policy is the result of not understanding the role of co-ops in our community," Rep. Steve Israel said in the joint statement. "But that bureaucratic error in Washington is having real consequences for co-op owners here in New York. Calling them 'business associations' means that co-ops cannot apply for the same type of aid available to other homeowners."
Taken for Granted
FEMA, however, already does provide grants to co-op and condo owners "for emergency housing assistance not covered by insurance," says spokesperson Ed Conley. "The purpose of these grants is to help people get back on their feet and into safe and livable temporary housing. Depending on the family situation, these grants are either in the form of rental assistance or minimal home repairs" with a cap of $31,900.
In addition, he says, "FEMA can also consider a grant for essential personal items. In the case of a condo owner or co-op resident, FEMA could assist with a grant to help meet the emergency housing needs of an owner or renter." However, he notes, "FEMA would not be able to provide a repair grant for common areas."
There are four types of housing assistance, another FEMA representative explains: money to rent a place to live or a temporary housing unit; grants for homeowners to repair damage not covered by insurance; money toward replacing or rebuilding a disaster-damaged home, subject to the maximum amount of $31,900; and "permanent and semi-permanent housing construction. However, we cannot pay to return a home to its pre-disaster condition, by law."
The thrust of the politicians' statements appear to be to allow co-op boards to seek grants for repair of common areas. "Not to make co-ops available for the same relief as single-family homes is wrong and FEMA need to correct that interpretation, which misclassifies residential housing co-op as business entities." says Bob Friedrich, president of Queens' Glen Oaks Village co-op and co-president of the Presidents Co-op and Condo Council, an advocacy group.
Washington to Condos: Drop Dead
The statements by Avella, Israel, New York City Council Member Mark Weprin and others, however, specifically exclude condominium associations. Was this an oversight or a conscious choice?
"We are just focusing on co-ops mainly because that's who came to us," Israel's press secretary told Habitat. "We have a bunch of constituents who live in co-ops and requested this help. It seems that condos are classified in the same way, but we haven't heard from anyone regarding condos." Likewise, said Avella's spokesperson, Avella's statement "just goes to co-ops."
Israel today sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Director Craig Fugate asking them to change their policy immeidately to allow co-op boards, though not condo boards, to apply for grants.
Co-op and condo boards already can apply for low-interest Small Business Administration loans for rebuilding purposes.
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