On Staten Island, Residents Face a Hard Decision to Stay or Go

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President Barack Obama’s pointman for the region’s Sandy recovery told WNYC in an exclusive interview that the federal government wants storm-damaged coastline neighborhoods and towns to build back better and stronger.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told WNYC it could take up to six months for the government to finalize its plan for buyouts, incentives and rebuilding with climate change in mind.

But for residents who want to rebuild or relocate in hard hit areas like Staten Island, answers are hard to come by at this stage in the recovery.

Before Sandy, Yasmin Ammirato lived in the same bungalow in Midland Beach for 47 years.

Since 1995, she has poured her energy and time into the neighborhood as head of the local civic association, but when Sandy destroyed her home, she decided to call it quits.

"It's killing me. It's breaking my heart. But I can't do it anymore," Ammirato said. "I became civic president to make the community better for my kids and everyone else, and now it's time to move on."

But not everyone wants to leave.

In nearby South Beach, Joe McCallister, president of the South Beach Civic Association, said residents who have been denied FEMA money or insurance money have no where to turn at this point.

"Nobody has an answer yet," he said. "That's the problem."

There are 200 to 250 homes in South Beach that are so damaged, they will need be bulldozed, he said.

Councilman James Oddo, who represents storm-ravaged areas like New Dorp and Midland Beach, said he’s not sure how Staten Island will change but it will be different to guard against another storm.

“The one outcome that we must all avoid is allowing people to build as was," Oddo said. "If government is complicit in facilitating the status quo, shame on all of us."