Hurricane Sandy, Snowstorm Nemo

By on February 15, 2013

Feb. 11 — As snow began appearing in the forecast and the intensity of the storm warnings grew, New York City social service agencies, both public and private, began publicly worrying.

But not so much about the 3,000 to 4,000 families still living in hotels and other rented shelters throughout the metropolitan area because they lost their homes in Superstorm Sandy. Their shelter is expensive, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency keeps on trying to evict them, but they weren’t in imminent danger.

The thousands of families living on the shores of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were a deeper concern. After Congress finally released recovery and repair funds to FEMA in New Jersey and New York, these families have been trying to pry the money they need out of the hands of the governments in Trenton and Albany to repair their homes. Would they be reflooded?

As it turned out for most of the Northeast, coastal flooding was relatively minor, due to the way the tides and winds interacted. The snow and the winds were much harsher outside the areas that were most severely impacted by Sandy. City shelters were also open for people who couldn’t stand the cold or who were driven from their homes by coastal flooding.

But for some of the people still living in distressed housing — the undocumented families who are excluded by federal law from FEMA assistance — the threat from Snowstorm Nemo was serious.

There are no statistics, but reports from food pantries indicate that gas and electricity are still spotty. Numerous complaints about New York City’s Rapid Repair program, which is open to all city residents, indicate that many repairs are incomplete — not all the boilers in a building are replaced; not every electric connection box, corroded by salt-water flooding, is repaired. For families whose legal status could be challenged, complaining often is considered risky.

Even if undocumented workers are ignored by official reports on the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, the expense and suffering involved in maintaining and repairing their shelter needs to be recognized.

The advantages of having legal status can be seen in an application by the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association for a rent reduction due to lack of basic services such as working elevators and laundry equipment. ST/PCV is a large development with more than 12,000 apartments on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

NYC Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who has lived in ST/PCV his whole life, told the Town & Village, a local newspaper, that work to restore services has taken too long. “While work is ongoing, residents should not be forced to pay for services that they are not getting.”

This application is putting huge pressure on the companies that manage ST/PCV for the bankrupt owners. If it is granted, tenants would receive millions of dollars a month in rebates. The ST/PCV tenants association has often contested rent increases, even winning some cases or limiting the amounts awarded.

Given the growing popular anger over how landlords have dragged their heels over Sandy repairs throughout the city, and given the tenants association’s history of militancy, the ST/PCVTA application has a chance.

A win in this struggle would be a win for all tenants.

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