Coronavirus News: Residents still recovering from Superstorm Sandy search for help

OCEANSIDE, Nassau County (WABC) -- For most New Yorkers, the misery of Superstorm Sandy is a distant memory amidst the concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, but for more than 800 families who have yet to finish rebuilding their homes, Sandy is a nightmare they are still living. COVID-19 is more than a potentially fatal disease, it's another barrier to getting back home.

"It's like it'll never be," said Susan Goldstone, who has been trying to rebuild her family home in Oceanside for more than seven years. "It's just a very stressful feeling. I don't know how to describe it."

Goldstone is among the 814 individuals, largely in Nassau and Suffolk counties, who received notices from New York States' recovery program, dubbed NY Rising, warning them they had until March 13 to schedule a final inspection or potentially lose the "ability to keep funds awarded."

The program promised more than 11,000 applicants more than $1 billion collectively to repair their properties damaged by the storm and raise their homes to reduce the risk of future flood damage, and set a December 2019 deadline to close out the program.

Many families slowed by what they described as permitting issues, contractor disputes and trouble navigating "changing and confusing program rules" have yet to complete their projects.

"It's like, 'Okay, we are going to give you this money and you are going to do this,'" said Sharon Shohet, another program recipient in East Rockaway. "You don't realize it's going to be such a problem until all these years into it, and everything became a problem."

Now with coronavirus, those same families scrambling to respond to the state's letter and schedule inspections before the end of March, received another letter informing them that "in-person inspections have been temporarily deferred."

"I cried and then I laughed," Shohet said. "It's like you have to be kidding me."

Both Shohet and Goldstone said they worried, would the state really take back funds that had been promised to them because of construction issues and other uncontrollable delays they experienced?

"NY Rising needs to step up and finish what they started here," Goldstone said. "We are all going to end up homeless."

7 On Your Side Investigates reached out to the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery, the state agency in charge of NY Rising.

"Through the NY Rising Housing Recovery Program, GOSR remains committed to assisting as many homeowners as possible to successfully complete their recovery and resiliency projects- allowing them to join the 10,000 New Yorkers who have already utilized State funding to complete their required repairs. By providing individualized case management and recognizing that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to recovery, GOSR continues to help as many applicants as possible to cross the finish line, understanding that more resilient housing stock makes all of our communities stronger, smarter and better prepared," wrote Thehbia Hiwot, GOSR Executive Director of Housing, Buyouts and Acquisition, in a statement.

A GOSR spokesperson also clarified, due to COVID-19, homeowners would not be penalized for scheduling inspections after March 13.

She said only applicants who received funds for work which is not feasible to complete or which they opt not to complete will be asked to return recovery dollars.

Applicants required to return unused or misused funds would be offered a monthly, no interest payment plan, according to the spokesperson, after exhausting an appeals process available to them.

It's some reassurance but little consolation for people like Shohet and Goldstone who say they need more help from the state navigating the challenges of a complicated home makeover if they are going to get the job done.

"It has been nothing but an uphill battle for over seven years," Goldstone said. "I have no more tears. So it's really, it's just very sad."

"I'm tired," Shohet said. "I really just want to go home."

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