"Things just change daily, and that's what's so frustrating," Sabatacos said. The couple expects to move this week into an apartment, aided by a $1,200-a-month FEMA rent subsidy.
As displacement and uncertainty continue, some officials recently broached a tried but controversial approach — trailers, a housing standby for FEMA in many disasters.
But Byrne sees them as an unpromising option in a densely packed city, especially since some of the open spaces suggested for a trailer encampment are in flood zones.
By hastening repairs, officials hope instead to solve the temporary housing crunch by shrinking it.
It's not uncommon for FEMA to pay for crucial fixes, such as replacing a furnace or fixing a flood-damaged electrical system. But usually, the agency assesses the damage and insurance and gives homeowners a check, leaving them to arrange the work.
FEMA and city officials reasoned they could get homes fixed faster if the city hired contractors, coordinated repair requests, dispatched the workers and paid for it all directly. The free repairs come on top of the $31,900-per-family cap for FEMA aid.
"I'm pleased with the progress," Bloomberg said after an unrelated news conference Tuesday. "If we keep ramping up at the rate it's going, I think in a relatively short period of time, everybody's going to be back."
The city has agreed to spend $500 million on the effort; FEMA is to repay at least 75 percent. Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk counties have similar, but so far smaller, initiatives. A program like rapid repairs is not taking place in New Jersey as of now, but FEMA officials there say they are looking at a number of options for the state.
About a half-dozen NYC Rapid Repairs workers were busy last week in Stephen Murray's gutted Staten Island home, its windows about five feet off the floor speckled with debris. The line marks how high the water rose as Murray fled Sandy in a neighbor's pickup truck.
The workers expected to spend several days replacing the flood-damaged wiring, furnace and hot water heater and putting down plywood where sodden floors were ripped out — not restoring the home completely, but making it safe. Murray and his wife are living in an apartment in the meantime, with FEMA's help.
Both retired after workplace injuries; they couldn't afford flood insurance or the $60,000 estimate to repair the two-bedroom bungalow. But he figures the city repairs, FEMA aid and elbow grease from friends and family should be enough.
"If the city didn't come in here and help me, I don't know what I would have done," Murray said.
As he spoke, a light bulb flicked on overhead, a sign that the workers had restored the home's connection to the power grid.
"Oh, man," Murray said. "You have no idea what it feels like."
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