Author: Donna Conneely
More than a year after Hurricane Sandy, many displaced residents are still suffering long-lasting repercussions from the massive disaster. Many of the areas that were most affected by the wrath of the storm were populated by low-income residents who have few resources with which to rebound from displacement. These areas were already densely populated before the storm, and the sudden loss of thousands of rental units presented a catastrophe for those seeking affordable housing.
Options for housing after the storm were limited, to say the least. Many people moved in with friends and relatives, moved away from the area, or even lived outdoors in the sand dunes. Formal shelters could not begin to absorb the thousands of newly homeless families that sought assistance after losing everything.
The hurricane has been a disaster for renters and owners alike. Many homeowners were staying afloat financially by renting out part of their house, usually a basement. Naturally, basements did not fare well during the floods! Therefore, home owners who were scraping by before Hurricane Sandy by relying on rental income have had to face foreclosure without the extra income. In some neighborhoods, foreclosures have increased by 60% since Sandy swept through.
In addition to loss of income from rental units, exorbitant repair bills, and slow, inadequate insurance payouts, property owners now have to face additional expense in the form of sky-high increases in their insurance premiums. In many cases, this seems like a slap in the face to struggling property owners. Not only do they have to wait a very long time for paltry payouts that do not begin to cover expenses, but now they will have to pay MUCH more to continue that inadequate coverage.
Federal and State grants to rebuild homes and businesses are still being awarded at a snail’s pace. While the funds are supposedly available to help those in need, and politicians crow about their successes in securing funds for their constituents, the actual dollars are trickling in to very few coffers. In some communities, only 25% of claims have been processed, leaving most claimants wondering when — if ever — they will receive critically needed assistance.
Fortunately, not all communities in the path of Hurricane Sandy suffered utter devastation. Fortuitous surprises, as well as prudent planning, played a role in protecting some neighborhoods. One community in New Jersey was protected by a flood barrier that no one knew about: a sea-wall that had long been buried and forgotten. This sea-wall did its job and held back the same floodwaters that all but destroyed a community right next door — one that did not have such a barrier in place.
Communities that foresaw the threat from flooding fared better than their neighbors. Beachside neighborhoods that had maintained sand dunes and concrete sea-walls were able to withstand the fury of the storm much better than those without. Whether the flood barriers were natural or man-made, the protection to structures could not have been made more clear during Hurricane Sandy. More than one year after the storm, those communities that lacked flood barriers have snapped back to normalcy, while those that lacked flood protection are languishing.