By Tom Wrobleski Staten Island Advance
Homes for Christmas.
Former Staten Islanders now living in Connecticut are teaming up with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and a church in the Nutmeg State to temporarily provide between 20 and 30 new modular homes there for borough families displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
Frank Siller of the foundation appeared at a press conference in Connecticut Wednesday with John Hodge, first selectman of New Fairfield, Conn., and Pastor Frank Santora of Faith Church in New Milford.
The Siller foundation will buy the “turn-key,” ready-to-occupy homes, while Faith Church will rent four acres of its property for the homes to the foundation for one year at the cost of $1.
It is hoped that the homes, which will come completely furnished, will be ready for occupancy by Christmas.
Hodge and Pastor Santora, who put the offer together, are former Islanders. Hodge is a cousin of Siller’s and director of operations for the foundation.
Siller said that the effort would cost close to $1 million, with the money coming out of the foundation’s Sandy relief fund. About $2.5 million has been raised for the fund so far.
“We are not spending all our resources on this effort,” he said.
Siller said he didn’t know how many Islanders would take advantage of the opportunity.
“We will find out,” he said. “For those who have no home and are living in a shelter, who have lost everything and have nowhere to turn, this is an option.”
Said Siller, “Is this an absolute answer? No.”
If Islanders do not take all the homes, Siller said the units would be offered to others in the region affected by Sandy.
With New Milford about 90 minutes away by car, Siller said that those with jobs in New York could commute back and forth to work.
As part of the offer, residents will also be able to register their children in Faith Preparatory School, which is located on-site, free of charge. The church will keep its gym open two to three nights a week for the children.
Some of the 14-by-48-foot, two-bedroom homes will be dedicated to families of up to four, while others will be allocated to retired couples.
Siller said he hoped that by the end of the year-long arrangement, Islanders who have gone to Connecticut will have settled their housing situations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or their insurance companies and will be able to move back to the borough.
“Hopefully, their houses will be rebuilt,” he said.
Siller said that the foundation would look to sell the homes at the conclusion of the arrangement, with the proceeds going back into the Sandy fund.
He said that the Siller foundation would consider a similar effort on the Island if land was donated here.
“We would take that on if someone offered us a free tract of land, or land for $1 a year,” he said.
When asked if he thought that those who gave to the relief effort would object to seeing so much of the money not being spent here on the Island, Siller said, “It is for Staten Island. The money is going to the people of Staten Island. And when we sell, that money is still coming back to Staten Island.”
Siller also “guaranteed” that the foundation would be able to sell the homes.
“We thought this through,” he said. “We are considerate of everybody’s donation.”
The homes will be purchased from Factory Expo Homes in Virginia.
It’s an effort with deep Island roots.
Hodge was raised in Eltingville, and his mother, Dorothy Siller Hodge, is Frank Siller’s aunt.
Pastor Santora grew up in Grant City, and has family members whose homes were damaged by the storm.
“So many people are displaced,” said Hodge. “There are not a lot of places to put temporary housing on Staten Island. With winter coming, we have to get people into homes.”
Hodge said that Connecticut Light and Power and Aquarion Water will run electricity and water, respectively, into the property on a pro bono basis.
The church will also provide families with food and provisions from the Hillside Food Outreach program. There will also be a weekly Sunday meal provided by the church.
“We are so grateful to have the opportunity to help people who have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy,” said Pastor Santora. “Staten Island is near and dear to my heart. I kept asking God what we could do to help.”
Pastor Santora was also here with a relief truck from the church, which he said has donated $100,000 in supplies to relief efforts.
“It looked like a war zone to me,” he said.
“You couldn’t get a nicer offer,” said Siller. “The community will receive them with open arms.”
The foundation will accept applications beginning on Monday for those who want a shot at one of the homes. If there are more applicants than homes, the foundation will pre-qualify applicants and then have a lottery.
To apply, go to the foundation’s headquarters at 2361 Hylan Blvd., Dongan Hills.