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As cold sets in, East Coast tackles post-Sandy housing crisis

November 05, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Federal and New York officials moved on Monday to deal with the housing crisis created by super storm Sandy, which plowed through the region one week ago.

With another brewing storm likely to hit the New York area this week, officials said they were moving to drain floodwaters and quickly restore electricity, heat and water to New York’s housing stock, while federal officials said they supplying assistance, both short- and long-term.

“There is no question that the lack of service has jeopardized people,” New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters at a televised briefing Monday. He said an expected cold snap and the serious storm, due by Thursday, complicated the recovery efforts. “All of this has made work more difficult and more urgent,” he said.

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Bloomberg said 115,000 customers remained without electrical power on Monday. While he praised the return to the classroom of more than 96% of all students, he said restoring electricity, water and heating to New York City Housing Authority buildings remained a top priority.

Pushing tons of water, Sandy caused flooding in a variety of NYCHA projects, especially in the Rockaways, Staten Island and South Brooklyn, the mayor said. As of Monday, 402 NYCHA buildings had lost electricity and 388 had lost hot water or heat, he said.

One hundred and fourteen buildings, with 21,000 people, were still missing electricity, and 174 buildings, with 35,000 people, lacked heat and hot water. Power had been restored to 288 buildings, with 58,000 people; 212 buildings, with 42,000 people, had heat and hot water returned, Bloomberg said.

All the floodwater has been removed from NYCHA buildings and officials were hopeful of restoring most electricity, water and heat before the storm arrives, Bloomberg said.

Housing is a central concern for the federal government as well.

In a conference call with reporters, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said that 217,000 people had registered for FEMA assistance and $199 million in aid had been provided, $193 million of which was in housing assistance. Those numbers are expected to increase, he said.

The storm response shows that a “strong federal partnership ... in support of local governments,” is needed to deal with the damaged homes. “As power comes on, there are longer-term issues of rebuilding and repairing homes,” Fugate said.

Officials are still compiling statistics on the housing needs across the region. New York officials have placed the number of those needing some form of temporary help at between 20,000 and 40,000, while other officials have said there are more in Long Island and New Jersey. More than 34,000 families are getting some short-term hotel or rental payments in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to federal officials.

Red Cross officials said Monday that at least 9,000 people had stayed overnight in 113 shelters. In addition, 5,300 Red Cross personnel were working in New Jersey, New York and West Virginia. The agency was preparing to distribute up to 80,000 blankets in areas expected to feel the drop in temperatures, which were approaching freezing in some areas.

While some of the housing need was tied to damage from the storm and flooding, much was also linked to the pace of restoration of electrical power. As of Monday afternoon, 1.3 million people across seven states were without electricity, according to the federal Department of Energy. At the peak a week ago, 8.5 million customers were without power.

 “We are very focused both on the short-term needs ... power, heat, food and water, but we are also very focused on need for medium-term and long-term solutions for housing for families in the region,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters on a conference call. Donovan is the former housing commissioner for New York City.

“We already nearly 1,000 homes available for rent,” he said, with priority to go to the elderly or those with medical needs.

Donovan also said there would be a temporary moratorium in foreclosure in disaster areas, so that families hit hard by the storm are not victimized a second time.

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