Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recovering from Hurricane Sandy

This blog comes to us from Donna Blaze, CEO of our affiliate Affordable Housing Alliance in Eatontown New Jersey. We thank her for making time out of her extremely busy schedule to share updates on what’s happening in her community post Hurricane Sandy. 

By Donna Blaze
Affordable Housing Alliance, CEO

Monmouth County, New Jersey, is a seaside region and when Hurricane Sandy struck on October 29, it hit hard.  More than15,000 residents in this community have been personally affected by the disaster. Some of their homes have been blown out to sea, while others were in 8 to 12 feet of water and now uninhabitable.  Making things worse, many local restaurants and businesses catering to tourists have had the same catastrophic losses, leaving some both without a home and job.
A boarded-up home in Monmouth County

My nonprofit, Affordable Housing Alliance, had a full plate prior to the storm. We were in the midst of expanding to two offices, constructing five affordable housing developments, and administering a county-wide utility program.  Now, however, we feel obligated to take on more. After all, these storm victims are our friends, our neighbors and our clients.

One of the biggest challenges right now is a lack of temporary housing within the county. Available homes are located in places like Atlantic City – more than an hour away in some cases. For people who have lost cars or who rely on public transportation, this means added stress and time in their daily commutes.
A beachfront home, devastated by the storm
 Unfortunately, this is just one component of what people are struggling with. Many have lost important mortgage and identification documents, complicating their ability to get help. Even those who are lucky enough to have papers and insurance must deal with the absence of family mementos – a baby footprint, a letter from grandma -- many of those little things that make up who you are.

Last week I took NeighborWorks America’s CEO Eileen Fitzgerald and COO Chuck Wehrwein to see what’s happening here. I introduced them to the residents at Union Beach Disaster Recovery Center, which is a combination of local volunteer efforts and FEMA  disaster center.
Chuck Wehrwein and Eileen Fitzgerald
talking to Union Beach center volunteer

I also took Chuck and Eileen to sites where we hope temporary housing can be made available. Fort Monmouth, an abandoned military site, has 600 potential temporary housing units. We had been considering moving our office to this location prior to the storm, and its size and current vacancy make it an appealing prospect. Another location is a manufactured home park with an estimated 16 spaces available. This could be converted quickly to either temporary or permanent (rent-to-own) housing.

Cards sent from schoolchildren in Virginia decorate
the walls of the Union Beach Disaster Recovery Center
Our current focus is to help people understand what options are available to them and to help them make the right decisions. Sometimes we don’t know the answer, but we are working to find out. We appreciate the tremendous outpouring of support and the $100,000 grant from NeighborWorks America. We also appreciate the chance to learn from cities that have suffered similar disasters. For example, Bill Stallworth, executive director of NeighborWorks affiliate Hope CDA, offered good recovery advice based on his experiences in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi. 

It is by sharing our knowledge and our resources that we can return our residents to homes and to the communities they remember before the storm in a more timely way.  

Note: NeighborWorks America recently made grants to organizations affected by Hurricane Sandy, including,  Affordable Housing Alliance ($100,000), Asian Americans for Equality ($50,000), Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City ($50,000), Community Development Corporation of Long Island ($20,000), NeighborWorks New Horizons ($20,000) and Brand New Day ($10,000). Typically NeighborWorks America grants to organizations serving this area have generated more than $50 in direct local investment for every grant dollar awarded, which would amount to more than $12.5 million in this case.