By: Claudia Wald
Women’s Economic Empowerment Development Assistant
It has been more than four months since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States, leaving thousands homeless and millions without power, and damages in the billions of dollars.
On Martin Luther King Day, on three buses, myself and about thirty other volunteers donned a Tyvek suit, mask, hardhat, and work gloves to take a hand at repairing the homes of Rockaway Beach. Upon first inspection, the site was remarkable for its commonplace (though markedly subdued) appearance. Recalling the images disseminated by the media following the super storm of a post-apocalyptic landscape that had succumbed to forces of biblical proportions, it was evident that the community was struggling to regain its composure as it licked its wounds. The environment’s somber element was evident for what it lacked- bustling commerce from bodegas and ice cream trucks; children laughing in the streets; remnants of lingering holiday décor stacked on the sidewalk. This evoked a collective sentiment of struggling to move forward- alternately facing a dearth of supports in place and families tangled in a web of bureaucracy.
Considering the formidable challenges Sandy survivors have faced, taking out drywall with a hammer was appealing for the tangible and direct nature of the work. I was reassured in the direct relationship between the needs of the homeowner for manual labor, and the relief I could provide in the moment. While I painstakingly pulled out nails from wood beams one by one, I considered the enormous amount of time and resources it would take to gut out and repair each affected home.
In New York City, many homeowners are still stranded and displaced, some living in hotels funded by FEMA, which expire every two weeks. The program in New York and New Jersey has been extended until February 9th. Individual families are waiting to hear back because cases are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
A number of low-income homeowners affected by Sandy have been struggling to regain their footing, as the FEMA funds granted to them cover only a minor portion of the total cost of their repairs. Indeed, some homeowners are being forced to use their FEMA funds to meet their basic needs, as opposed to repairs to homes to achieve long-term sustainability.
Furthermore, tenants affected by the storm are facing difficulties finding affordable rentals. The process of figuring out how to help homeless Sandy victims find a more permanent solution was delayed by Congress’ slow passage of the hurricane recovery bill. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is working with state and local officials to help find long-term housing for displaced people.