Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reflections on Superstorm Sandy After Six Months

by Deborah Boatright, northeast regional director, NeighborWorks America

Six months after Superstorm Sandy rocked the coastlines of New Jersey, New York City and Long Island, NeighborWorks America and its affiliates remain deeply engaged in helping homeowners and businesses to recover and rebuild. We are committed for the long haul; with our sights set on strengthening community resiliency in an era of climate change. 

Over the past six months, NeighborWorks America educated more than 750 contractors and homeowners at 13 mold remediation trainings, six of which were co-sponsored with NeighborWorks affiliates. A fully updated “Navigating the Road to Housing Recovery Guide”, providing “road maps” to residents on rebuilding, repairing, selling, relocating, buying or renting, was released in March, and 90 counselors and nonprofit professionals were trained in its use. The Navigating Guide and Mold Remediation tools are downloadable from our website:

NeighborWorks America’s northeast regional headquarters is located in lower Manhattan, and our local staff has been steeped in recovery and resiliency discussions throughout the region. Our office was closed for four months due to flooding. Staff came back to a changed landscape. Many of the small stores that surround our building have yet to reopen; and the South Street Seaport, a major tourist attraction and hub for small businesses, remains shuttered. Similar conditions exist in other hard hit commercial areas along the region’s vast shoreline. 

Wayne Meyer, president of NeighborWorks affiliate
New Jersey Community Capital, was one of a dozen
people honored this week at the White House as
a Superstorm Sandy “Champion of Change for
the organization’s REBUILD New Jersey Fund.

This is a pivotal time in recovery and rebuilding, as congressionally appropriated resources are becoming available for deployment, and the private funding community is more organized and focused. NeighborWorks America has a unique role to play, utilizing our nationally regarded expertise in training, community building, impact measurement, capacity building and grant making. Our affiliates are doing great work, guided by a deep commitment and astute professionalism that is the hallmark of NeighborWorks. It is challenging work in the communities that we have all long called home.   

Wayne Meyer, president of New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC), was one of a dozen people honored this week at the White House as a Superstorm Sandy Champion of Change for the organization’s REBUILD New Jersey Fund. The REBUILD New Jersey Fund closed 23 loans totaling $800,000, preserving 135 jobs for customers like Architectural Hardware in Jersey City, New York, a family owned and operated distributor of metal and wood doors, frames and hardware for more than 40 years. Architectural Hardware had up to 56 inches of water, and lost a great amount of inventory and all its vehicles. Their loan allowed the owners and their nine employees to get back to business through the purchase a new forklift, replaced inventory, and replenished revenues.

In Monmouth County, New Jersey, homeowners and residents seeking help with their housing situation continue to come to the Affordable Housing Alliance’s offices daily, and the organization has seen a rise in the number of applicants for assistance through their statewide utility relief program.  Fifteen of the 17 mobile homes purchased by this NeighborWorks affiliate are now installed and on the way to full occupancy, and the  remaining two, accessible units for people with disabilities, are arriving soon. The Alliance’s work is featured in a compelling video by the Robin Hood Foundation, focusing on the story of Kanseisha Wilson, a home health aide and mother of two. 

Neighborhood Housing Services of East Flatbush, part of NeighborWorks affiliate NHS of New York City, opened a Housing Recovery Center in Brooklyn’s Canarsie section. Homeowners there were able to re-occupy their homes only after the City of New York’s rapid repair program addressed their most emergent needs.  Permanent repairs remain to be done, and funds are in short supply. NHS’ experienced contract management specialist has helped 57 families to assess their homes and plan for appropriate repair, and the organization secured funds for small grants of $10,000 to help offset the costs. Qualifying counselors assist families to negotiate insurance claims, address mortgage issues and avoid scams, which are rapidly growing. The innovative program was recently featured on NY1.

"It is important for Asian Americans for Equality to be there because
people in the community trust us. Our physical presence shows we are
there for the long haul,” said Raquel Colon, senior housing counselor.
Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) is working heavily in Queens, Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island with a focus on Asian Americans and new immigrants. AAFE has stationed staff at local grassroots organizations in Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay to strengthen their capacity, while offering grants, low interest loans, targeted technical assistance and one-to-one financial counseling to impacted homeowners and small businesses throughout the city. To date, over 160 businesses from all over the city have received loans totally $3.2 million from AAFE’s small business affiliate, and more than 200 walk-in clients were served just at one Emergency Help Center in Flushing, Queens. AAFE too is deeply concerned with scams and predatory contractors, and plans to review contractor records and work claims for homeowners. 

“There are three big issues that we are facing in terms of recovery. Clients are being advised to elevate their homes, flood insurance rates are sky high now, and people need guidance and direction on how to navigate the bureaucracy. It is important for AAFE CDF to be there because people in the community trust us. Our physical presence shows we are there for the long haul,” said Raquel Colon, senior housing counselor. 

Wade attended a Hope for Homeowners event
sponsored by NeighborWorks America,
Hope Now Alliance, Community
Development Corporation of Long Island
On Long Island, which has the largest number of FEMA applicants of all three areas, Community Development Corporation of Long Island’s Sandy Housing Recovery Program is working extensively in seven towns throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. CDCLI is currently focused helping 143 clients to create individual plans to address their immediate and long term housing needs, and is making their full array of housing services available. Insurance and mortgage issues related to the storm are prevalent—49 of their current clients are also receiving help with these issues.  Amityville resident Harold Wade, who came to CDCLI at a Hope for Homeowners event, typifies many homeowners: “"I was under water in two ways, both from Sandy and financially," said Wade. "It’s a long road ahead but it’s my opportunity to start over again."