Sandy News Roundup

hurricane-sandy-one-year-later

Instead of just our usual Friday News Roundup we’ve decided to take a mid-week break and note this week’s anniversary of Superstorm Sandy by collecting the great analysis and reporting of folks around the affordable housing world in one place. Get ready for the roundup…

But first, a quick reflection of our own: A year ago we were forced to relocate for 10 weeks from our home at 120 Wall Street. And today its nearly impossible to see the remnants of Sandy in the Financial District. We know this is far from true for New York’s poorer neighborhoods that Mayor Bloomberg has largely ignored during his 12 years in office — places like The Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Staten Island, Harlem and the South Bronx. In fact, there was a rally this week organized by the Alliance for Fair Rebuilding highlighting  this “tale of two recoveries.”

Colorlines has a great write-up of how Sandy disproportionately affected poor residents of NYC, noting that while the city is the world’s financial capital, it also has the largest gap between rich and poor, who were treated very differently in the aftermath of the superstorm.

The bottom line is that while Sandy didn’t discriminate our economic system surely does.  That’s why the numbers show the toxic results of what can happen when an environmental catastrophe collides with economic inequity.

In March, NYU’s Furman Center and Moelis Institute put out a full report (pdf) about Sandy’s affect on housing. Some of the key findings were that 402 NYCHA buildings with over 35,000 units housing over 80,000 residents were affected. Another 248 government-subsidized buildings with another 24,500 units were also within the “surge zone”. And finally, more central to our theme of maintaining as many units of affordable housing as possible:

Sandy affected over 800 privately-owned, unsubsidized buildings containing more than 40,000 rent-stabilized units. If these properties suffered extensive damage and need to be rebuilt, some of the stabilized stock, which is a valuable source of affordable housing, may be lost.

According to WNYC, 10,000 New Yorkers living in public housing complexes are still surviving off of the 23 mobile, temporary boilers that were provided after Sandy, but which were never replaced with permanent boilers. This has forced some tenants to get creative with how they get hot water:

To draw a bath, [Catherine Darby, an elderly resident of the Hammel Houses] has to boil water on her stove. The next step is particularly tricky, because Darby uses a walker. She places the pot of hot water on the seat of the walker, then maneuvers it from the kitchen, down the hall, to the bathroom.

There are other emergency government programs that were never followed through on. The Huffington Post has a story about nearly 300 Sandy victims who are being kicked out  of the hotels they’ve been living in for the past year while the city was supposed to be finding them affordable housing. The city failed.

Evacuees said living indefinitely in a hotel is no vacation. Many of the rooms are filled with boxes and garbage bags holding belongings salvaged from waterlogged homes, leaving barely any open floor space.

The Coalition for the Homelessness put together a list of 5 short-term needs and 2 long-term needs for that it calls on the city and federal government to enact. This comprehensive list is centered on what it deems “the biggest and most important need…permanent, affordable housing.”

As the City begins to receive billions of dollars in federal aid, it is critical that these low-income displaced families are not left without assistance, nor should they be forced to compete with other homeless and low-income families for the dwindling stock of affordable housing that currently exists. Rebuilding must be used as an opportunity to expand the availability of affordable housing for all displaced families, including those left homeless by Hurricane Sandy as well as those previously forced out of the increasingly unaffordable housing market in New York City.

And, after all that, according to Mother Jones, our city, state and federal governments are not much closer to being better prepared for the next (inevitable) natural disaster. Besides fundamentally not addressing climate change, total lack of transparency on how emergency money is being spent, and utter mismanagement of recovery spending, the actual location of the new buildings is proving to be problematic.

If it were up to him, says Bill Hooke, a senior policy fellow at the American Meteorological Society, the government would buy up the most vulnerable seaside properties and simply return them to nature. Of course, that isn’t what’s happening. “People are rebuilding like before,” he says. “And that’s a big issue.”

PS. If you’re free tonight, check out this event which looks great: Sandy, One Year Later: Sharing and Preserving Brooklyn’s Stories, Wednesday, October 30, 2013 – 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Brooklyn Historical Society 128 Pierrepont St Brooklyn, NY 11201. More info here.

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