Friday, November 9, 2012
Since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey and New York coastlines last week, FEMA has already put more than 30,000 residents in hotels and motels and given out roughly $300 million in rental assistance.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday announced more help for residents: a new program called NYC Rapid Repair for people whose houses have been damaged by Sandy. The program, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will cut through bureaucracy and get contractors to many damaged homes starting next week, according to Bloomberg.
Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stood with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie five days ago and said the government was looking at every housing option.
"We don't even know yet which of the houses are reparable and which are irreparable losses as well as finding temporary housing for those individuals who can't move back to their homes right away," Napolitano said.
Those assessments are still going on. At least 7,000 people are still in shelters in New York and New Jersey.
In New York City on Thursday, the Brooklyn Armory in Park Slope was providing shelter for about 300 elderly people, many with medical problems. Neat rows of cots filled the room.
As of today about 470,000 people are still in the dark. One of those people is Linda O'Conner. Three power poles near her house in West Milford, N.J., snapped, leaving her with no heat, no electricity and since her water is from a well that is pumped with electricity, no water.
"We have been cramped up in a teeny tiny hotel room. We're stressed out, everybody is fighting with each other, we're tripping over our things," O'Conner says.
Her daughter managed to make it to school once it opened. The two dogs are in kennels, the cats are in the house basement being fed every day. The family has spent $2,000 on lodging already, but they're not in a FEMA disaster county, so they can't count on any federal aid. Every day she looks at the power company Web site, watching the number of homes without power go down and down.
"You see all your friends and neighbors and family getting their power back and you feel so left behind," she says.
Bloomberg said 40,000 people might need housing assistance. Half of them are in public housing. Each day more of those buildings are functioning, but as of Thursday there were 120 buildings without heat or hot water and 72 were still without power.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told reporters they were using satellite imagery to see how many homes were impacted by flooding. The trouble is "that number won't tell us how many have long term housing needs," Fugate says.
Most of the FEMA assistance money is going for renters' assistance.
"It's faster. It puts more money into the economy," Fugate says.
So far FEMA has given $300 million in renters' assistance. FEMA has said 101,000 people are eligible for temporary housing at hotels and 56,000 people are eligible for help with rentals or repairs. FEMA is also beginning to move some mobile homes into hard hit areas. These are not trailers like the ones used in Katrina. Those led to class action suits when some were found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde.
"We have moved to HUD-approved manufactured housing, and we have looked those designed for a colder climate [like in the] Northeast, where you do have severe winters," Fugate says.
And Bloomberg announced that Airbnb, an online site that lets people rent their homes, will let people use the Web site to donate free temporary housing for the displaced. According to Airbnb, almost 600 people have already opened their homes.
Bloomberg says some people whose houses have been inundated don't want to leave.
"This is everything they worked for all of their lives, and this is where they want to be," says Bloomberg.
Jobs, school and fear of looters figure into this calculation. So the city is trying to provide them with security, warm blankets and other assistance as officials all over the region explore multiple options.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit www.npr.org.