One year after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast coast, some of the hardest-hit communities continue to struggle with the storm’s damage. Many of the areas most devastated by Sandy were home to low-income people who are now homeless. Even when families evicted by the storm have found somewhere safe to stay, they are frequently forced to bunk up with other families or sleep on the floor. Others hit the dunes. Making matters worse, winter is fast approaching.
In New York City, families that were already vulnerable to the housing crisis now face incredible burdens to finding affordable shelter in their communities. “Sandy was extremely devastating, but it actually uncovered and brought to light an already existing problem, which was a lack of affordable housing,” says Ismene Ispeliotis, executive director of the Mutual Housing Association of New York. “Now you have hundreds and thousands of additional families going into the shelter system and burdening available housing.”
In communities where repairing and rebuilding is a distant dream, hopelessness prevails for many. A year after the storm, these 10 Sandy-shocked communities are in desperate need of revitalization.
1. Keansburg, New Jersey
Alyssa Durnien, a disaster case manager for Occupy Sandy New Jersey, says homelessness has become a drastic problem. According to Durnien, more than 50 people are now sleeping in the Keansburg dunes, “couch-surfing from place to place” when the weather gets bad. “There are two pregnant women we are aware of living on the beach,” says Durnien. “They won’t accept or even try to get any kind of assistance because they are afraid that [the Department of Youth and Family Services] would take their children.”
Keansburg’s displaced residents are still struggling to eat; Durnien estimates that the food pantry she opened after Sandy now serves more than 2000 people each month, with more coming every week. “Rebuilding and recovering from this is going to take 10 to 15 years,” Durnien says. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”
2. Canarsie, Brooklyn
“If you drive through Canarsie, you will see the brick homes, and you might think Canarsie wasn’t hit,” says Wayne Clarke, president of the neighborhood’s Disaster Relief Committee. “But our homes were underwater. We still need help.”
Clarke says many Canarsie residents whose basements were destroyed by the storm are facing serious financial pressures despite efforts by the city’s Build it Back program. “Most of the people who rent the basements are gone already, so a lot of home-owners are struggling now to pay their mortgages,” he says. “Canarsie had a foreclosure problem prior to Sandy, and after Sandy hit, it exacerbated the problem.”
3. The Rockaways, Queens
Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula was one of the most devastated areas in New York, and residents are still waiting to see their community return to normal. Terri Bennett, founder of Respond and Rebuild in the Rockaways, says low-income residents have been the hardest-hit in Sandy’s aftermath. Many displaced renters still don’t know if they’ll be able to return to their homes once their landlords rebuild; many lower-income homeowners, meanwhile, have been unable to qualify for disaster relief loans because they have lost their rent income. “That was really a lifeline for a lot of low-income single female heads of households,” says Bennett. “The same people who got shafted by FEMA are the same people who didn’t qualify for [Small Business Association] loans – the same people who didn’t get any or a fair insurance payout,” she says.
4. Breezy Point, Queens
Last year in Breezy Point, Sandy’s flood waters poured into one home’s electrical system, igniting flames that spread uncontrollably until 80 homes were destroyed. While block after block burned and flood waters rushed in, the storm ravished nearby homes until one in ten were destroyed. More than 300 families lost their homes, and many have given up hope for rebuilding what still looks like a ghost town. With FEMA money slow to come, those who have managed to begin repairs are draining their own finances. Breezy Point’s post-Sandy real estate crisis contributed to a 60 percent increase in foreclosures in Queens over the first nine months of 2013.
5. Red Hook, Brooklyn
“People think that things are open, and we’re back to normal,” Monica Byrne, co-owner of Red Hook restaurant Home/Made, recently told Crain’s New York. “What people don’t see is the huge amount of debt that everyone has had to take on, or whether they are able to make their payroll or able to make their rent – or whether they owe their electrician almost $10,000, like we do.”
Red Hook residents are worried about another storm. So are their insurance companies: The New York Daily News reported that homeowners insurance premiums are expected to increase from $1,000 a year to $7,000 or $8,000 annually.
6. Long Island
A January FEMA report found that Sandy damaged 10 percent of households in Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties, leaving 4.4 million cubic yards of debris in its trail of wreckage. Fourteen Long Islanders were killed in the storm that caused $6.7 billion in property damage on the island’s waterfront. Now residents are struggling to rebuild as foreclosure rates rise – up 24 percent in Nassau County and 28 percent in Suffolk County.
“The places that were hurt the worst by Sandy have seen an extraordinarily slow comeback,” real estate businessman Emmett Laffey told MarketWatch. “The problem is getting the insurance money. The homes have been razed, and today they are just a sandlot. Some people have gotten insurance money; some people still can’t get the money. It’s a big mish-mash – nothing is uniform. Those areas that were hardest hit are still reeling.”
7. Seaside Heights, New Jersey
Sandy swept away much of New Jersey’s popular Seaside Heights beach community (home to the MTV reality show Jersey Shore) – damaging 80 to 90 percent of all properties and pushing a roller coaster into the ocean, where it remained for months as a symbol of the town’s wreckage. Tourism is New Jersey’s third-largest industry, so a slow summer in Seaside Heights has a big impact. As if that weren’t bad enough, a fire in October wiped out an additional 68 businesses.
In May, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Block Grant Disaster Recovery gave $460 million to New Jersey for grants and loans to Sandy victims, but most have been waiting since the storm to see any money. USA Today reports that an official said only about 108 applications out of more than 700 have been approved.
8. Midland Beach, Staten Island
Parts of Staten Island, where Sandy claimed 23 lives, were devastated by the storm. About 15 percent of the borough flooded, impacting more than 75,000 residents. One year later, almost one-third of the businesses on the Midland Avenue strip remain closed, according to Crain’s New York. “They just don’t have the means,” Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, told the site. “FEMA does not give any help to companies, and there weren’t a lot of other options.”
9. Union Beach, New Jersey
In Monmouth County’s Union Beach, where 85 percent of homes were flooded by at least two feet of water, entire blocks remain empty as residents rely on volunteers and their own finances to rebuild. “It’s been a year of nothing,” retiree Joe Argentina told NBC News. After acquiring debt using flood insurance to pay off his mortgage at the urging of his bank, Argentina became ineligible for a federal government loan, and does not have the money to rebuild. Other Union Beach homeowners expected FEMA to provide financial support for home demolitions, but learned months later that the policy had changed. With 300 homes listed for demolition, the borough is relying on volunteers.
10. The Caribbean
This week, Chilean diplomat Heraldo Muñoz – the United Nations Development Program’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean – urged the world not to forget the havoc wreaked by Sandy before the storm hit the United States. “Sandy, one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes on record, rumbled across the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other countries before finally reaching the eastern seaboard of the U.S.,” Munoz wrote in an al Jazeera editorial, adding, “In Jamaica, most of the country was left without electricity, and public infrastructure suffered damages valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. Nearby Haiti was even more exposed, with at least 50 dead and millions affected. Cuba, where the storm reached peak intensity, was left with at least $7 billion in damage, including to more than half of the housing in Santiago de Cuba.”