After the Flood, a Fight Over a $1.2 Million Repair Bill

first_imgDisaster recovery crews were on site at Pecks Beach Village in Ocean City in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in November 2012.A desperate effort to return 60 displaced families to their homes in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is at the heart of a million-dollar debate over how repairs were made to a housing complex for low-income residents.The Ocean City Housing Authority voted Thursday to seek advice from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development before repaying the City of Ocean City $1.2 million for the work.Floodwaters more than two feet deep filled the first-floor living spaces of the 60 units at Pecks Beach Village during Sandy in October 2012, and resident families were forced to abandon their damaged homes and take shelter in one-room hotel units, some off the island, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).For Mayor Jay Gillian, the coordinated work to return residents quickly to their homes was “the best thing I’ll ever do for Ocean City.” The city had no obligation to make the repairs — the Housing Authority is autonomous and operates under the auspices of HUD. But Gillian said he witnessed the slow pace of the federal relief effort and the growing frustration of residents, and he decided to act.The city used an affordable housing fund and hired local contractors to expedite the work. The first Pecks Beach Village residents returned to their homes in early February and all were back within another month.For Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Executive Director Ed Price, the pace of work was admirable but also troublesome.“We’re kind of in a pickle,” Price said.The Housing Authority has to answer to HUD, and Price said he fears potential repercussions from procedures and guidelines that were not followed in the rebuilding effort.Housing Authority Board Vice Chair Stephen Lalli at the commissioners meeting on Thursday noted potential issues such as the lack of a signed shared services agreement, missing documentation, installation of appliances that do not meet HUD-required energy efficiency ratings, use of regular drywall instead of water-resistant “greenboard” and lack of executed contracts.City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said that the city had forwarded a shared services agreement to HUD for approval at the beginning of the project but that HUD “went silent” before a final version could be approved. Another version of the agreement included new language that was never approved by City Council, she said.Much of the debate over HUD requirements hinges on what is permissible in exigent circumstances, and McCrosson said it’s hard to argue that the displaced residents did not constitute an emergency.Housing Authority Solicitor Charles Gabage acknowledged that “in every one of the correspondences from HUD there is ambiguous language.”But he asked, “Do you err on the side of caution or do you throw yourself too close to the bus.”“The Authority puts itself in jeopardy if it pays the city without getting HUD involved,” Gabage said.The Authority holds $1.2 million in FEMA and flood-insurance reimbursements. A group including Price, Lalli, Gabage, Commissioner William Woods and Housing Authority Executive Director Alesia Watson will travel to Newark at a date to be determined to consult with HUD.While neither man politicized the issue in any way, Gillian and Price are likely rivals in the Ocean City mayoral race that will be decided in May.last_img read more