Knickerbocker gets $1.5 million for Sandy damage

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BY SAM SPOKONY | Knickerbocker Village, a Lower East Side affordable housing complex, will receive nearly $1.5 million to repair damage caused last year by Hurricane Sandy, officials announced Wednesday.

That money is part of the federal disaster relief funding that was approved three months after Sandy struck last October, and is now being allocated to Knickerbocker through the NYC Build it Back program, which is administered by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“Today, we celebrate the beginning of the next phase of life for Knickerbocker Village,” H.P.D. Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said during a press conference at the 12-building, 1,600-unit complex on Monroe St.

The funding, which Visnauskas said would be made available a day or two after Wednesday’s announcement, will go directly towards repairing storm damage to the development’s 12 elevator banks.

Flooding from Sandy completely disabled Knickerbocker’s elevator systems for weeks, leaving many families and elderly residents in dire straits as they struggled without electricity or hot water.

While temporary repairs were made at that time, the elevators are still in poor shape, requiring new cables, switches, wiring and other equipment.

The H.P.D. chief also said that, at a point yet to be determined, the Build it Back program will also provide some of the funding for a second phase of repairs, which will focus on strengthening the development’s entire electrical and heating systems, and is estimated to cost more than $5 million.

“I’m grateful and relieved to see progress being made and promises being kept,” said longtime Knickerbocker tenant leader Bob Wilson, who has lived in the complex since the 1940s. “Sandy changed the way we need to look at how we maintain Knickerbocker, and keep something like this from happening again.”

During his remarks, Wilson also gave a somewhat joking — yet deeply heartfelt — salute to Vincent Callagy, the longtime manager of Knickerbocker, and his staff for their actions to maintain the complex in the aftermath of the storm. Tenants and management have clashed at times in the past.

“I want to strongly show my appreciation for Vince Callagy, which is rare, because he and I have certainly had our times,” said Wilson, “but he and his employees, I can’t compliment them enough for what they do to operate this place day in and day out, even when we all thought it was going down.

And four local elected officials who joined in supporting Knickerbocker tenants through their toughest moments after the storm — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Margaret Chin — stood side-by-side again last week, one year later, to celebrate the allocation of funding for repairs.

“This issue wasn’t going to go away in months — it’s going to take years,” said Stringer, the overwhelming frontrunner to win the city comptroller’s election Tuesday. “But today the city has taken a critically important step … This was a difficult place to be after the storm…but the seniors, the parents, the children and everybody pulled together to get us through that difficult time. And we have an obligation in government to continue that effort, to make sure that we’re whole again.”

Visnauskas also announced on Wednesday that $1.1 million is being allocated through the Build it Back program to fund repairs to two residential buildings in the Rockaways that were damaged by Sandy.

And in a related issue, on Thursday the City Council voted to pass legislation, sponsored by Chin, that would require the City to provide property protection and resiliency information — including the creation of emergency preparedness guidelines — to residential and commercial building owners, and would put the responsibility on building owners to post emergency information to prepare tenants for extreme weather situations.

Amid the positive atmosphere that surrounded Wednesday’s announcement of the Build it Back funding, the fact remains that Knickerbocker tenants have still not received the rent rebates they were promised a year ago.

Ares Management (formerly called AREA Property Partners), which owns Knickerbocker, sent a representative — Stuart Koenig, a senior partner — to Wednesday’s press conference, but he declined to respond to a question about the rebates.

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