Five years ago, Superstorm Sandy struck New York City, causing roughly $19 billion in damage to homes and businesses in coastal communities. As advocates, emergency workers and the City mobilized in response to the disaster, so did the Center, initially by raising millions of dollars to directly help homeowners and by providing assistance through our network of community-based partners.
In the years since, we’ve continued to invest resources and expand assistance for homeowners who live in our coastal communities, some of the last remaining havens of affordability in the city.
“Serving coastal communities remains at the core of our mission of protecting and preserving affordable homeownership,” says Christie Peale, CEO/Executive Director of the Center. “And this year’s hurricane season, which has devastated so many communities in Houston, Texas and Puerto Rico, is a reminder that there is much work that still needs to be done to keep our neighbors safe from future extreme weather and flooding.”
To mark the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, here’s a look back at the work we have accomplished in our coastal communities so far — as well as our plans for the future.
Fundraising for Superstorm Sandy recovery
In the weeks following the storm, the Center launched a comprehensive response, ultimately assisting 250 homeowners by providing direct grants or loans thanks to funding from Goldman Sachs Gives, the Robin Hood Foundation, and the Empire State Relief Fund. This included the Neighborhood Recovery Fund, designed to help with Sandy-related expenses that exceeded the assistance homeowners received from their insurance or FEMA. The Center also coordinated a range of direct services to nonprofits in the storm-struck neighborhoods.
We also provided and oversaw more than $2 million in grant support to 19 housing counseling and legal services organizations located in the most impacted neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. These grants afforded over 3,500 homeowners with housing counseling and legal services. By engaging homeowners one on one, particularly ones from vulnerable communities, these grants helped prevent drop-off from those going through a difficult recovery process.
“The Center was able to mobilize rapidly to provide direct services and channel funding to communities in need,” says Joseph Sant, Director of Homeowner Services at the Center, who oversees our recovery and resiliency team. “That infrastructure wound up helping thousands of homeowners recover and build resiliency in the years since Superstorm Sandy.”
Superstorm Sandy recovery sheds light on threat of flood insurance
Two years later, we learned that while communities were still struggling to recover from the storm, they were also reeling from an emerging threat: rising flood insurance costs. In our landmark report released in response to this emergency, “Rising Tides, Rising Costs: Flood Insurance & New York City’s Affordability Crisis,” we called for political action to protect coastal communities.
“After decades of planning and public policy turned flood-prone land into affordable housing, rising flood insurance rates and the associated increased risk of flooding have the potential to permanently displace low- and moderate-income New Yorkers from these neighborhoods,” we concluded.
“Serving coastal communities remains at the core of our mission of protecting and preserving affordable homeownership.”
To help New Yorkers better understand their flood insurance rates and flood risk, we launched the FloodHelpNY.org website with easy-to-use tools.
While many issues we raised in that report — from reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program to long-term resiliency measures for homeowners — remain at the center of dialogue and debate today, we have evolved our services to meet these challenges.
Beyond Superstorm Sandy
Since we knew that in the coming years homeowners would grapple with the need to retrofit their homes to become less vulnerable to storms, we sought models for helping to mitigate the effects of flooding and storms. We were lucky to receive funding from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery in 2015 to launch a pilot program that brings together engineers, surveyors and housing counselors to do assessments of homes and determine how flood-ready they are. Participants also receive a free elevation certificate valued at hundreds of dollars. That program launched last year with a revamped version of FloodHelpNY, designed by global firm IDEO.
So far, we’ve helped nearly 800 families learn about what options they can take to mitigate their flood risk and potentially lower their flood insurance rates.
Over the years, we have also helped hundreds of families navigate the City’s Build it Back program as their homes undergo reconstruction or elevation. In 2016, we expanded our services for homeowners still recovering from the storm through a new partnership with the City’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations. Known as Temporary Housing Services, the program serves homeowners by helping find and pay for temporary rental units while their homes are made more flood-resilient. With this program, no family has to miss out on rebuilding their home because they cannot secure an affordable temporary rental.
In recent months, we’ve been looking toward the future at how we can marry our resiliency efforts with sustainability measures such as energy efficiency. We see it as a natural path forward as we work to support homeowners who are facing increasing cost burdens and to ensure that neighborhoods in the floodplain remain vibrant, thriving communities.