Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis and Sandy Victims Call for Ease in Residential Aid Guidelines, Small Business Support

Assemblywoman Malliotakis and Sandy victims call for a state economic development program and federal government to ease restrictions for resident aid.

Staten Island, New York: While property and small business owners continue to struggle to recover from Super Storm Sandy, it was revealed last week that NYS Empire State Development Corporation requested and received a waiver from the federal government to spend $37.5 million dollars on an advertising campaign promoting tourism and stating ‘New York is Back.’ Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis stood with Sandy victims today to ask the NYS ESDC to spend an equal amount of money to provide grants to small businesses to help them recover. She also urged the federal government to ease restrictions to enable the City and State to conduct an acquisition program on properties not approved for a state buyout.

Said Malliotakis, “I understand that tourism is important to some regions affected by Hurricane Sandy, Ivan, and Lee such as Long Island and Catskills, but here in Staten Island, victims of Super Storm Sandy are still struggling to recover nearly two years later. We need the Empire State Development Corporation to use recovery money to help business owners get back on their feet and we need the federal government to come to a resolution with the city and state to fund additional acquisitions of property so we can rebuild our coastline smarter. President Obama stood just a few blocks away from here in 2012 and promised to cut the red tape but we still see residents and local government jumping through hoops to satisfy convoluted federal regulations to spend aid.”

“To date, our small businesses have not received a dollar in aid and most have been denied assistance which comes in the form of loans requiring personal property as collateral. Some small businesses such as the Renaissance or LaRocca’s, which have been staples in the community, have chosen to close up shop completely. We stand here today to ask ESDC and Governor Cuomo to create a grant program for businesses so that they can recover and continue to provide employment to the many people who depend on them.”

Barbara Nejeidi and her husband Mike, owners of DiSara Restaurant in New Dorp Beach, were forced to use their savings to rebuild their business. There was no grant program for small businesses, and they chose not to seek a high interest loan because they did not feel they could responsibly accept one. After putting all of their money back into the restaurant, the Nejeidis fell behind on their property taxes and today owe a significant amount to the City of New York. A desperate plea to the City for relief was answered only with the offer of a payment plan at an exorbitant interest rate that would only place them in deeper financial difficulty. “Our restaurant is our livelihood. We’ve poured our heart and soul into this place, and it was all destroyed in one night. We knew we had to come back, not only for us, but for the people of New Dorp Beach. We were told that the government would be there to help us but it seems like all it did was throw obstacles in our way. And when we found out the State chose to use the money this way, it was like adding insult to injury,” said Ms. Nejeidi.

Steve Margarella, owner of Maragrella Concrete and Asphalt lost most of his trailers and machinery when flood water consumed his property. Because his business is dependent on machinery which has a steep rate of depreciation, he continues to battle with his insurance company about replacement costs. The loans offered to him by the city at above market interest rates wouldn’t even cover a week of salaries for his employees. Said Margarella, “I cringe every time I see an advertisement from the NYS ESDC inviting new business to New York State while companies like mine, which were devastated by Sandy, struggle to survive. We need real help in the form of grants so that we can recover our business and employee people who in turn pay taxes to support our government. Small business is the backbone of our economy, yet companies like mine have not gotten one dollar from the city, state or federal government to help us. Before New York State invites new businesses to locate here, how about taking care of the companies that are here. If they want to spend millions of dollars on advertising to attract new business and tourists, why not match that $40 million with grants to established businesses with a proven track record. Let us get back to work so that we can put people back to work.”

Villa Marin Auto World has been in business since 1956. They sustained over a million dollars in damages due to Super Storm Sandy. They were denied an SBA loan because it was determined that following the storm they were “not fiscally solvent.” Villa Marin employed 50 people before the storm hit. “Our company has been a fixture on Staten Island for 58 years,” said owner, Steve Villa Marin. “We managed to stay alive during some of the worst business climates in New York State without accruing debt. We are a solid company with sound business practices but our stick-with-it-ness doesn’t seem to matter. It feels like we have been abandoned. What is worse than watching our family owned business struggle to stay alive is watching our employees, some of whom lost everything in the storm, struggle to live on the $400 a week from unemployment. We went from employing 50 people down to employing 6. The other 44 are now struggling to find jobs. If the state had used a portion of that money to help keep our business alive, we would have all been better off.”

Business owners aren’t the only ones still waiting for assistance. Property owners are still waiting for shoreline protection or acquisition to protect them from future storms. Convoluted federal regulations and red tape have stymied those projects. Frank Dinger and Marie Granite are the owners of homes near the end of Goodall Street, on the shoreline of Great Kills Harbor. When the City of New York completed its temporary shoreline protection project, which included the construction reinforced berms to withstand wave action, a gap was left at the end of Goodall Street, placing residents of the block in an extremely vulnerable position. After the Parks Department explained that the gap was due to a lack of space to construct a berm in that area, the residents enlisted the help of their local elected officials in presenting a case for their properties to be purchased by the State and converted to open space, where it could provide increased protection for the surrounding area. The State, however, refused to offer a buyout.

“After a year of rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, we spent months trying to appeal to the state for a buyout. Our situation became more dangerous when the Parks Department used federal money to construct a berm that makes our homes even more vulnerable to flooding because we are located in the only gap in the berm,” said Mr. Dinger. “Omitting the berms on Goodall Street has put us in more danger by creating a funnel effect. Now every time it rains, Goodall Street gets flooded. Our block has been left in a state of limbo where we don’t know where to turn,” added Ms. Granite.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis is working with New York City Director of Housing Recovery Amy Peterson to make these homes part of a possible city acquisition program but federal regulation of aid still remain an obstacle.

Assemblywoman Malliotakis and residents are also frustrated by the federal government’s approval of the ad campaign, while at the same time penalizing Build It Back applicants for refusing to accept SBA loans. Build It Back is forced to hold the declined loan against certain applicants due to regulations promulgated by HUD, the same federal agency that seemingly approved the $37 million ad campaign.

Albert Bloise, a cancer survivor and retired senior citizen from Midland Beach on a fixed income, recently endured two surgeries on his leg after falling down a flight of stairs while trying to evacuate during Sandy. He was offered a loan through SBA, but declined it because he too did not believe he could responsibly pay it off and, instead, thoroughly exhausted his life’s savings to repair his home. When the Build It Back program was announced, he was pleased to learn that he could apply to have his expenses reimbursed. To his surprise, Mr. Bloise was informed by Build It Back that, despite never receiving a dollar from SBA, the amount of the loan would be deducted from his potential Build It Back award. “I served my country. I’ve paid my taxes. I’ve done everything my country and my federal government asked of me, and all I asked for was some help after being stuck outside of my home for three months. When Build It Back told me they would hold the declined SBA loan against me, they said it was due to HUD regulations. How could HUD hold this against me while approving the use of Sandy recovery money for advertising?” said Mr. Bloise.

Malliotakis is urging Governor Cuomo and New York State Economic Development Corporation to use a portion of remaining Sandy Recovery funds to provide a program that offers grants, no interest loans, tax credits or property tax abatements for small businesses still struggling from Sandy. She is also urging the federal government to grant any necessary waiver to implement such a program and imploring the federal government to cut the red tape so a city and state acquisition for redevelopment program can take effect.