Only a few short weeks after both tenants and public officials expressed mounting frustration over delays in disaster relief funds to help Knickerbocker Village recover from Sandy’s onslaught a year ago, the city announced today that it would provide $1.46 million in federal money from the NYC Build It Back program to finance the first phase of repairs.
The disaster money is the first to be awarded by Build it Back to multifamily properties (two others in the Rockways will receive a total of $1.1 million), and will go toward renovating elevator banks in the complex’s dozen buildings on Monroe Street that failed after flood water from the East River raced through the basement. The work will begin “in a day or two,” Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas told B+B during a press conference at the state-sponsored Lower East Side development.
“A year ago today, this site was under water,” said Visnauskas, speaking outside the complex’s East Court. “I wasn’t here myself, but for [tenants] the memories are as indelible and unmovable as the high watermark stain that was left in the boiler room at Knickerbocker Village when the flood waters reached almost to the 20-foot ceiling.” She said architects were already at work on designing the second phase of renovation which will include “resiliency measures” to make sure that the boilers and the electrical systems will be “resistant to flood damage in the event of future storms.”
Tenant leader Bob Wilson. (Photo: Mary Reinholz)
Visnauskas was joined in making the announcement by a group of prominent New York officials, among them Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council member Margaret Chin. Other speakers included Knickerbocker Village tenant leader Bob Wilson, who had long lobbied for the funding, and Stuart Koenig, global CFO of Area Property Partners, owner of the nearly 80-year-old, 1,590-unit building that is home to mostly low-income residents.
Speaker Silver recalled the grim days at Knickerbocker Village immediately after Sandy struck when residents were suddenly “plunged into cold and darkness and many elderly and of limited means were stranded in their apartments without elevator service when power went out throughout Lower Manhattan. Destruction was particularly acute here,” he said in his gravely voice. “Residents went weeks without essential services. The electrical system was under water. Tragically, there was even loss of life.”
Throughout this ordeal, Silver said, he and fellow elected officials and volunteers delivered food, water and blankets, “going up flights of stairs, knocking on doors, checking on the infirm and the elderly in multiple languages. I saw the spirit and the strength and resilience that has come to characterize this lower Manhattan community and indeed the entire city, a spirit that has empowered our effort to rebuild.” He said his office would continue to press for rent rebates to Knickerbocker Village resident for the loss of service, adding, “We will make sure they won’t be passed on to the tenants.”
Council member Chin said tenants called her office for help getting the “lights and heat back on” and said her staff was at Knickerbocker “practically every day getting FEMA and the Red Cross here to set up tents and get meals for residents.” She called the $1.7 million grant “only the beginning.”
Tenant leader Bob Wilson spoke briefly, thanking various officials for their help but noting, “Number one, I’d like to thank the residents of Knickerbocker Village for enduring what they endured with grace.”