New York Rising is a Scam

As most people who know me are aware, my house, on Long Island’s south shore, suffered heavy flooding on October 29, 2012 as a result of Hurricane Sandy, when the water level of a nearby bay rose several feet above its historic high and filled my house up like a bucket. My house was not in a flood plain – even today it’s not considered a flood risk according to the latest maps – so we didn’t have flood insurance.

We stayed as long as we could, and planned to ride out the entire storm in our house, but once water started pouring down the driveway and filling up our garage and first level (finished living space) we decided to vacate. We spent the night at a friend’s house, far from the water.

image
The driveway, which slopes down from the street to the first level.
The next morning, I drove back to my house to check out the damage. There was about a foot of water still in the house, but the high water mark inside the house showed it had gotten to about 40 inches – level with the street outside. Everything downstairs was ruined. Washer, dryer, fridge, boiler, water heater, couches, TVs, video game systems, computers – the lower level was a living area, bathroom and our home office. Everything had been submerged in brackish water from the bay.

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I went back to the house where we’d spent the night, and as soon as President Obama declared an emergency, I logged onto FEMA’s website and requested aid. The details of the next few days are murky in my mind almost 5 years later, but the inspector came on Halloween. We received some emergency money from FEMA relatively quickly, which let us get heat and hot water back once the power was restored, but it was well below the cap of $31,000, and far short of what we’d need to get everything fixed and replace what we’d lost.

I should add that our homeowner’s insurance explicitly didn’t cover any flood-related damage, and as I said above, the area had never flooded before and is even today not considered a flood risk.

We were without power for 9 days, which we spent hauling waterlogged stuff out of the basement and onto the curb. It was depressing work, but since there was no power at home or at work (in lower Manhattan at the time) it at least gave us something to do. Our lifeline to the rest of the world was our iPhones, which we charged using solar chargers we’d picked up at a county fair the previous year. In hindsight, we were lucky it was a warm few days, since we had no heat.

I had some contractors come by and asked them to give quotes to repair the damage. Since hundreds, maybe thousands of houses in my area had been damaged by the storm it was really difficult to get anyone even to return our call. We finally had three different contractors come by, and they gave verbal quotes ranging from $40,000 to $80,000, but each of them refused to give a written quote unless we agreed to hire them first. This seemed backwards, and frankly shady, but it was their market and they had hundreds of other jobs they could do.

We went back and forth with FEMA about increasing their award but they refused. Ultimately they directed us to the Small Business Administration about getting a loan. We really didn’t want to take out a loan, but on November 22nd I filled out the application beginning the months-long process of securing a disaster relief loan.

At some point, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put together the New York Rising program to handle disbursement of federal funds for storm recovery. Going through my email history, I applied for this program on September 16th, 2013. On October 12, 2013, I received a letter from New York Rising informing me of my award of $193,728.73. We were pretty excited, as this meant we wouldn’t need to move forward with the SBA loan, and could use grant money for the repairs. By this point we had settled on a contractor, one who had been highly recommended by friends and had no problem getting all necessary permits, inspections, and most importantly, doing everything to town code. We were told he was very good, but also expensive, and his quote was over $80,000. We informed SBA we wouldn’t be moving forward with the loan since the NY Rising grant would more than cover the repair cost.

Several months passed and we didn’t hear anything from NY Rising, until February 7, 2014, when I received an email from NY Rising informing me of my award in the amount of $16,633.30. This was confusing, so I called our NY Rising rep to ask if this was in addition to the $193,728. She informed me that the $193,728 was “a mistake” and I should ignore that letter. NY Rising estimated that my total project cost should be $36,362.91. I was shocked. That amount was lower than the lowest quote I had received. I asked repeatedly for further explanation but never got one, and eventually they stopped returning my phone calls. I ended up actually receiving $12,689 from NY Rising – 75% of the $16,633.30 they gave me in their “revised” award.

In the end, I secured the SBA loan and the repair began on March 15, 2015 – two and a half years after the storm. The work was completed that July. The final bill for the repair and replacing furniture and appliances inside was well over $100,000, which I’ll be paying off over the next 27 years. The lower level is nice, and it’s nice to have that half of the house back after having been crammed into the upstairs for two years. But most importantly, as part of the rebuild, we filled in the driveway. Prior to Sandy, the driveway sloped down from the street level to the garage, which was what made the flood so disastrous for us in the first place. With the driveway filled in, another similar flood shouldn’t affect us so badly.

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That’s not the end of the story, however. On Feb 21, 2017, I received a letter from NY Rising informing me that because I had received an SBA loan in the amount of $117,543.20, and their estimated cost for the repair was $36,362.91, the entire amount they had given me was considered “duplication of benefits” and I had to repay the $12,689 I had received.

I called the latest NY Rising representative assigned to my case and asked about this and was told that I was free to appeal the decision. I sent in my appeal on March 30, 2017, explaining that the repair cost well over $100,000 and their original estimate of $36,000 was absurd. I also explained that filling in the driveway alone cost over $10,000, and it would have been foolish to do any repairs at all without filling in the driveway, as it would just leave us open to flooding again in the future.

I received a letter on April 19, 2017, informing me that my appeal was denied:

The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s (GOSR) NY Rising Reconciliation Evaluation Team met on April 18, 2017 to review the appeal received on March 30, 2017. After careful consideration, your appeal is denied.

When you applied to the Program for assistance, an Inspector came to the damaged property address to calculate the extent of the damage to the property from the storm. The total of this amount was the Total Project Cost and is reflected above as $36,030.74. Subsequently, your Total Project Cost increased to add an additional design allowance for work completed prior to inspection. Your Reconciled Total Project Cost is $36,362.91. The documentation submitted with your appeal was reviewed and it was determined that even if all of the repairs in your contractor’s estimate were Program‐eligible, the total DOB funds you received would still exceed your Total Project Cost. Your current Total Project Cost includes a 10% design allowance to cover expenses such as architect’s fees. Additionally, content, such as furniture and personal property, and driveway repairs are not eligible for Program funds.

Since receiving that letter I’ve contacted every elected official I can think of, from federal through county representatives, and received responses from Congresswoman Kathleen Rice’s office and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. However, I have little expectation anything will change before NY Rising puts the account into collection, as they’ve threatened to do with each letter.

I hope that by writing and sharing my experience, others who have had similar issues with NY Rising changing their award amounts out from under them repeatedly, and ultimately demanding money back that was used to repair their homes, as it was originally intended, will similarly speak out and convince Governor Cuomo to stop this recapture program.

 

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New York City commuter winter survival kit

Since I started working in Manhattan again a couple years ago I’ve learned a couple of things about surviving the winters on the LIRR platform. This winter in particular has been pretty lousy, temperatures below 20ºF and gusty most of the mornings for the past couple of weeks when I’m waiting for the train. Here are some of the things that have made it bearable. This is kind of a hodge-podge as a result of complete trial & error, but when fully geared I’m totally comfortable in the biting wind and snow even as others visibly shiver.

Land’s End Commuter Coat (Tall)

I have this one (apparently discontinued), but in black.

Land's End Commuter Coat

When my wife got this for me in 2012 I groaned. I was concerned that it made me look like an idiot. Well, the next time it snowed I instantly got over any reservations I might have had because this coat was heavenly. It has lots of pockets, it’s waterproof and windproof, and it’s long enough to cover my butt – actually the first coat I’ve owned that was long enough for me. The only real negative is its bulk – on the train it’s hard to squeeze in a seat wearing this thing, but I often put it in the overhead rack if it’s crowded. Also it’s REALLY warm – you can’t wear it for very long indoors.

LL Bean Fitness Fleece (Tall)


I’ve owned a lot of fleeces, and while I like the Old Navy ones, the LL Bean Fitness Fleece is my favorite. It’s warm enough to be a great layer between the commuter coat and a T-shirt but not so warm that it makes you sweat. I also like the way it looks.
LL Bean Fitness Fleece

Land’s End Men’s Squall Gloves

I’ve tried many different gloves and these are pretty good. They’re best on really cold, windy days – when you’re scraping the ice and snow off your windshield at 6 AM in the dark, these are the gloves you want. They’re comfortable (even for my XL hands), pretty much waterproof and windproof, and they have a little zipper pocket where you can insert those hand-warmer packets. And they were pretty cheap – I think $10 on sale.
Land's End Squall Gloves

Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Plus

I ended up with these boots after my previous pair of boots sprung a leak and I complained on Twitter. These are amazingly warm – definitely can’t wear them indoors for more than about 30 minutes without getting swamp feet, but they’re perfect for shoveling snow or those 8º windy days. I usually wear them with some thick Hanes crew socks for ultimate comfort. On days I wear them into the city I bring some regular sneakers along for normal wear, otherwise it’s really uncomfortable.
Columbia Bugaboot Plus XTM.
I have to add that while these boots are great, having worn them fewer than 20 times, one of the leather lace-holes ripped off completely. I could contact their CS about this but don’t want to deal with the hassle. The boots still “work” but this was a defect in a product that wasn’t used that heavily.

Chaos – CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava

My latest addition. I was pretty warm most days except for my face, which was freezing. I tried a few hats and a scarf but the scarf was too unwieldy and itchy. I realized what I really needed was a crazy ski mask. Again I was worried that this would look stupid but practicality quickly won. My main worry in buying a balaclava was finding one to fit my massive head. I took a chance and fortunately this one worked out. It’s just barely big enough – if I put it on too quickly I can hear it tearing – but it’s been wonderful. On cold windy days, now my only exposed piece of skin is around my eyes. I end up with icicles on my eyelashes but that’s a small price to pay for warmth.

Chaos -CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava

Conclusion

I don’t really know why I wrote this, maybe just as a shout out to the brands that have made this awful winter bearable. But hopefully the info contained herein is helpful to someone. Anyway, thanks for reading.

FCC Report shows Verizon much faster than Cablevision

The FCC recently conducted a study of some of the top broadband ISPs in the country and measured customers’ actual bandwidth as compared to what the ISPs advertised. FiOS really came out on top.

The report is available on the FCC site. The bottom line, though, is that Verizon FiOS averaged nearly 120% of advertised speed (i.e., more than was advertised) and Cablevision was between 50% and 75% of advertised speeds. Latency (ping) was also heavily in FiOS’s favor.

FCC - Fios vs Cablevision
FCC - Fios vs Cablevision

Continue reading “FCC Report shows Verizon much faster than Cablevision”

Back on FiOS again (finally)

Well, that was quite an ordeal. But Verizon came today and finally installed FiOS. All’s well that ends well, I suppose. My phone number was finally ported over and the internet is insanely fast. This is 25/25 internet with my desktop Fedora box plugged into the TP-Link router which is then plugged into the FiOS ActionTec router. I didn’t want to have to reconnect all my computers to a new SSID so I’ll just continue using the TP-Link until I have a reason not to.

FiOS 25/25 Speed Test - May 20th, 2011
FiOS 25/25 Speed Test - May 20th, 2011

One thing I did right away was change my DNS servers. The default DNS servers with Verizon were 68.237.161.12 and 71.243.0.12. By default, Verizon uses “DNS assistance,” meaning that DNS queries against these servers will return IP addresses when they should return NXDOMAIN, so if you mistype the hostname in a URL it can direct you to a page full of ads. You can disable this by replacing the last octet of the default DNS IP with 14. So for the two IPs above, it would be 68.237.161.14 and 71.243.0.14. I figured I’d compare the response times of these servers with Google’s 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. I used dig to time DNS requests and also used ping to measure latency. 68.237.161.14 was the fastest for me, followed by 8.8.4.4 and then 71.243.0.14, so those are my primary, secondary, and tertiary DNS servers.

Going back to FiOS

I’m not sure why these guys operate this way – they’re more than happy to lose me as a customer and then throw huge discounts at me to get me back. If they’d just give me a good price I’d love not to have to go through this rigmarole. But after being with Cablevision for 2 months I checked Verizon’s pricing and it beat my current deal with Cablevision.

FiOS digital voice with number ported for free; 25/25 Mbps internet; HMDVR free “forever” plus a second HD STB, Showtime, Movie Channel and Flix. Since I already had the battery thing installed last time I had FiOS they gave me a fair discount. Basically the whole package for $87/month + tax, price locked for 2 years, no contract. Not as great of a deal as I’d had with FiOS originally, but it’s pretty good, and FiOS’s service is definitely better than Cablevision’s. I’ve heard Cablevision was rolling out their “DVR plus” service with all programs recorded “in the cloud” rather than on the actual box, but it’s been two months and I haven’t heard of it coming to Long Island. So basically 2 years later Cablevision’s service is exactly the same while Verizon has iPhone apps to control the DVR and use the phone as a remote, plus DVR that’s much faster and just generally better service.

On a side note, I noticed tonight I was having problems trying to stream Netflix to my Wii. I tried loading netflix.com on my laptop and that also didn’t work, it said “couldn’t find server movies.netflix.com.” I tested this via dig on my linux box and sure enough, movies.netflix.com isn’t resolving against the default Cablevision nameserver (167.206.3.206) – getting a SERVFAIL:

[evan@lunix ~]$ dig movies.netflix.com

; <> DiG 9.3.6-P1-RedHat-9.3.6-4.P1.el5_5.3 <> movies.netflix.com
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: SERVFAIL, id: 17569
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;movies.netflix.com.            IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
movies.netflix.com.     232     IN      CNAME   merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com.

;; Query time: 2129 msec
;; SERVER: 167.206.3.206#53(167.206.3.206)
;; WHEN: Sun Apr 24 01:23:58 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 103

I tried the same query against Google’s nameserver (8.8.8.8) and it resolves correctly:

[evan@lunix ~]$ dig movies.netflix.com @8.8.8.8

; <> DiG 9.3.6-P1-RedHat-9.3.6-4.P1.el5_5.3 <> movies.netflix.com @8.8.8.8
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 43718
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 2, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;movies.netflix.com.            IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
movies.netflix.com.     300     IN      CNAME   merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com.
merchweb-frontend-1502974957.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com. 39 IN A 174.129.220.6

;; Query time: 34 msec
;; SERVER: 8.8.8.8#53(8.8.8.8)
;; WHEN: Sun Apr 24 01:37:26 2011
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 119

I set my router to resolve against 8.8.8.8 rather than whatever Cablevision provides and now it works. I’m not sure if this is related to the big EC2 disaster of the past few days but it looks more like Cablevision’s fault than Amazon’s or Netflix’s.

Speed comparison: Optimum Boost vs Verizon FiOS

Optimum Boost advertises 30 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up. Here’s a speed test I just ran at Ookla’s SpeedTest.net:

(My desktop is plugged into the router, the router is plugged into the Arris cablemodem.)

Here’s one of the last speed tests I did with Verizon, on 2/15. I had the 25/15 internet package:

(Desktop was plugged into 8-port Linksys 100 Mbit switch, the switch was plugged into the FiOS/ActionTec router.)

Continue reading “Speed comparison: Optimum Boost vs Verizon FiOS”

FiOS speed 10 months later, better than ever.

I switched to FiOS in December, 2009, and I was pretty apprehensive, having been a Cablevision customer for many years. I really had no problem with Cablevision’s service, I just thought their pricing was much too high in the face of the new competition (and deals) Verizon was offering. I ended up going with Verizon due to their awesome deal, but now it’s almost a year later and I can’t imagine going back to Optimum. It’ll probably come down to price when the current promo pricing I have with Verizon ends, but if the price was equal then no contest – I’d stick with FiOS.