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Homecoming: Sandy-struck Coney Islander returns to elevated house after year of work

Brooklyn Daily
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Call it a higher standard of living!

Cornelia Johnson finally returned to her renovated — and elevated — Coney Island home in June after living in temporary housing for more than a year.

“It feels wonderful,” said Johnson, a Brooklyn native. “Like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Johnson left behind her home and all her belongings the night of the superstorm, catching the subway to a friend’s house in Queens shortly before service stopped.

When she returned three days later, she saw that her house had been thoroughly flooded. Her furniture was destroyed, the house was covered in mildew, and her walls were full of cracks. The neighborhood was in no better shape — cars had floated into the middle of the street, heaps of beach sand were strewn all over the pavement, and debris was everywhere.

“It looked like a war zone,” Johnson said, “like a bomb had gone off.”

Besides the damage to her home of 24 years, Johnson lost irreplaceable family photos — and all of her insurance documentation. Recovery felt impossible for a long time.

“I felt lonely, I felt isolated,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was in a fog for a couple of months.”

Johnson was able to make initial repairs to her home through Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Rapid Repairs program and her federal flood insurance, but there were still many major repairs she was unable to make. Worst of all, her home was still just as vulnerable to another storm.

But that’s where the longer-term Build it Back program came in. The massive, city-run, federally funded reconstruction program has slowly but surely renovated hundreds of Sandy-ravaged homes, and where necessary also elevated them above the flood plain to protect them from future superstorms.

Now, after more than a year of construction, Johnson’s house has been elevated, renovated, and fitted with flood vents — and Johnson has new peace of mind.

“If we have another storm like Sandy, I can just go up a flight,” she said “I feel 100-percent safer.”

Following years of scandals and frustrating delays — and a failure to meet Mayor DeBlasio’s self-imposed finishing work on all single–family homes by the end of 2016 — Build-it-Back renovated itself and has made progress towards that goal.

As of July 3, the Build it Back program has served 99 percent of Brooklyn projects with either a construction start, reimbursement check or acquisition, according to the Department of Buildings, and 95 percent of projects in Brooklyn have been completed.

“Working with Ms. Johnson, someone committed to protecting her home, Build it Back is able to show how the city can deliver resilient homes for residents.” said Amy Peterson, Director of the Mayor’s Office for Housing Operations.

Updated 4:34 pm, July 11, 2018
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