A Staten Island neighborhood where three people died during Sandy will be the first to get state-sponsored home buyouts. Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined the planned program during a visit to the borough on Monday.
Cuomo said Oakwood Beach – where 141 of the roughly 200 homeowners have already asked for a buyout – typifies the kind of community he’d like to help through the program. “It’s been damaged time and time again,” Cuomo said. “It is in a situation that is very vulnerable.”
The governor’s plan calls for the state to pay 100 percent of the pre-storm value for the homes. Residents who move elsewhere on Staten Island will be eligible for an additional five percent bonus.
Some areas of Staten Island were so badly hit by Sandy that the prospect of rebuilding has been called into question. Midland Beach, where 11 people drowned within one square mile, sits below sea level, for example.
Assemblyman Matthew Titone said some homeowners facing high insurance rates and the prospect of future flooding are looking to get out.
“When we look at certain areas that have been consistently – not just, you know, with a big storm or a super storm, but just heavy rain – sustained damage or flooding, well, you know, it’s time to maybe really reassess, should there even be a house here,” he said.
Titone and other Staten Island officials, like Councilman James Oddo, are praising Cuomo’s buyout plan.
“When you look at an aerial view of Staten Island, there are some locations that are obvious that human beings should no longer live there,” he said. “They probably should have never lived there to begin with.”
But in some places, residents are already rebuilding. Anthony Depaulo hopes to move back into his home on Grisby Street, in the heart of Midland Beach, next week.
“I’m not looking to really move, especially at this time in my life,” the sixty-one-year-old said. “I’m comfortable where I was…and I’m still here. So I just want to get back to that and relax.”
Depaulo said it would take a hefty sum to convince him to move out of Midland Beach, and he said he doesn’t believe the government “has the kind of money” to offer all of the homeowners a fair buyout.
Aiman Joussef lived up the street from Depaulo, on Midland Avenue. But he has nothing to renovate – his home was completely leveled by Sandy. He’s running a makeshift relief shelter by the empty lot where his home once stood. Joussef said some Midland Beach residents aren’t at a point where they can think about buyouts – because many, like him, are still desperate to fulfill their basic needs. He said many questions are still unanswered.
“I am a victim, how can you help me? I’m still in the hotel, how can I move on with my life? How can we get support from you? How can we get funds for the people?” he said. “We’re still day one here.”
Additional reporting by Christine Streich.