Bloomberg to Offer Own Sandy Buy-Out Plan, with a Twist

Could Lead to Rebuilding on Flood Plain Even After Homeowner Sells Out

Monday, March 04, 2013

Weeks after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed buying out homeowners in flood-prone areas, the Bloomberg administration is indicating that it will offer a similar program. But the mayor’s program could differ in one significant way: the properties the city acquires could be turned over to someone else to be developed again.

Under Cuomo’s plan, the state would use $400 million in federal Sandy aid to acquire, at pre-Sandy prices, properties from owners who would prefer to move than rebuild in the flood plain. The land would be turned into open space for use as parks, wetlands, drainage or other purposes. The governor said he would start the buyouts in the Oakwood Beach area of Staten Island's East Shore.

In testimony at a City Council committee hearing Feb. 26, Brad Gair, the director of the city’s housing recovery office, said the Bloomberg administration is working on its own buyout program using federal Community Development Block Grant funding, $1.8 billion of which has been earmarked for the city so far. He said details, like how much money would be devoted to it, had yet to be worked out. But he added the city’s plan may not stipulate that the acquired properties be turned into open space.

“If there is one element that we have not yet come to full alignment on,” Gair said, “it’s whether properties acquired should be made permanently open space or whether some of those would be suitable for redevelopment—preferably for the home owners in the area.”

It was the first time that a member of the Bloomberg administration said publicly that buyouts would be an important part of the city's relief package. Previously, Lauren Passalacqua, a City Hall spokeswoman, called buyouts "just one of many potential mitigation strategies."

At the City Council hearing, Gair said that even though one property owner may want to sell and move away from the 100-year-flood plain, other people would be willing to move there.

“These are valuable properties,” he said. “There is a limited amount of coastline properties.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been funding similar types of buyouts in flood prone areas for 20 years. But whenever FEMA buys out a property, it requires the land be set aside permanently for open space.

James Fraser, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, says the requirement protects taxpayers from having to pay twice for the same property: to buy it out, and then again later, if it gets flooded.

“When a locality continues to develop in a flood plains, they are not only putting themselves at risk,” Fraser, who has researched FEMA buyouts, said. “They are putting the nation at risk because financially FEMA has to pay for future flooding.”

Mayor Bloomberg has suggested that modern construction methods, such as elevating homes above the 100-year-flood level, will make them sufficiently flood-proof for the future. Fraser says modern rebuilding helps, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem.

“You still have impervious surface and that impervious surface is going to contribute to the amount of flooding that’s experienced in the surrounding area,” he said.

In a follow-up interview, Peter Spencer, a spokesman for the city’s housing recovery office, said that the city’s program would not be bound by FEMA's restrictions against redeveloping bought-out properties because the Community Development Block Grant money comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He added that allowing a resident to buy a property adjacent to his own, and which otherwise would be turned into open space, could alleviate the so-called “jack-o’-lantern effect” that some people worry will result if some, but not all, homeowners on a street otherwise sell their properties to the government. (A similar program in New Orleans allows people to renovate the structure on the adjacent lot and rent it out as long as that is permitted by zoning regulations.)

“There are some areas where perhaps it makes no sense to build on again,” Spencer said. “In other areas, the current owner may not have the desire or the means to rebuild, but there could be others who do want to. This certainly could be a way to rethink these communities and re-plan these communities and make them better."

If the city pursues its buyout plan, it would have to get permission from the federal government. Guidelines released Friday said any acquired property “could not typically be redeveloped.” But they do allow for some exceptions if the buyout price is based on the post-disaster value of the land and if additional aid to the property owner is given for relocation assistance.


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Comments [15]

John C

Received a letter from flood insurance claiming that the insurance will go up every year 25 percent and still no buy out program for far rockaway. Why don't politicians called it buy out program for white areas only cause that is ecactly what it is. This goverment put a negro as president not to help the poor but to use his black face to take away benefits from the poor so they won't retaliate. Right now the goverment is smiling and saying you see there is a black president in the us, there is equality for you niggers. In the meantime his making the poor pay for their health insurance and don't be surprise if they use this african nigger to take away your food stamps and ssi benefits. Oh yes, now they cannot say you are lazy and don't want to work because their are no jobs. To all the people that voted for this man. Wake up see it for what it is. His just a puppet that the goverment is using against you to take away your benefits. Color means nothing. Always vote for someone whose going to do for you not because of color.

Mar. 25 2014 08:59 AM
John C from far rockaway

Last week people who live in staten island started receiving 400 thousand dollars throught buy out program. People in the rockaways did not get anything. Politicians like addabo jr comments are that residents of far rockaway like living in their flooded homes. Obviously, He don't have five feet of sewage water coming in through his home. Someone should slap this racist idiot. Who wants to live in a flooded area.

Nov. 11 2013 07:09 PM
lana from rockaway, ny

I bought my Rockaway home in the height of the market (2005). I desperately need to get out as my young children have nightmares nightly about having to move around so much and losing so much at such a young age. All I want is what I paid for my home. I don't care who gives it to me. I just want out. I could care less if some developer makes money off of the deal at some point in the future.

Mar. 12 2013 10:28 PM
Kristian Nammack from Brooklyn

This is nothing short of shocking, corrupt, ugly, unethical, and all I can think of is to call for civil action against Bloomberg and this completely self-serving plan.

Time for a Revolution, folks. Or will you just sit there and take it lying down?

This is war.

Mar. 11 2013 11:18 PM

as a lifelong resident of broad channel there is so much on my mind to say that i cannot fill you in with all of it. i do know living here all my life you are making it hard not to stay with these offers,but i love my town. have a lot of family here as do most broad channelites.grew up here roots are not swept away from sandy and not afraid to face any hurricane as are most in the neighborhood. one fluke (bad) storm will not scare us away we understand rising waters are a threat for many years to come. we live around water and as such have dealt with high water before.we dont like the idea of having water in our living rooms all the time but we dont believe we will have to deal with it as much as you say. out of all the hurricanes in the past 100 years we never saw one this bad. we were always told growing up here bad hurricanes come around every 10 to 20 yrs. ive seen 3 bad hurricanes here with sandy as the worst the other 2 water never came in my house.whos to say what the hurricanes have been like for the past 1000 years. its very hard for us to leave homes where we have lived ,grown,buried family members,met other great people from this area its hard enuf to come home to a house thats been ravaged by water than to have some one who doesnt even know us or this town and have them tell us we have to pay exorbitant amts of money for insurance or sell and move. i know there are better options for us ,youre just not offering them and it makes us think there is something other to this than is being said. thank you ptg 61 yrs in b.c.(gods littlest acre)

Mar. 11 2013 08:03 PM
Laura Gottesdiener from Brooklyn

@sofiaalex and @Thomas Cawley and others, I'm an independent journalist working on a story about community members' thoughts on the buyouts and the possibility of redevelopment. If you're interested in talking to me, get in touch:

lauragottesdiener [at] gmail [dot] com.

With love,

Mar. 08 2013 10:53 AM

As a Broad Channel resident whose family STILL can't live in their home, there is a capital project with $24 million set aside to raise the streets on Broad Channel island. TODAY word came that the project needs to be looked at again and will be further delayed by another year. It's quite convenient that this announcement comes on the heels of the "buyouts with a twist" proposal. And by the way, most of the Rockaways and almost all of Broad Channel are populated with people of modest means. I have yet to meet a summer only resident.

Mar. 05 2013 02:47 PM
djblackwood rockaway from rockaway beach

I called it Bloomberg your great mayor that you elected for a third term tells ppl not to rebuild in the rockaways cause he wants to buy it an wants to implement a city buyout program so him an his friends can buyout the beach front property an sit on a gold mine, i think ten steps ahead of you bloomy your not that slick

Mar. 05 2013 11:22 AM
culprit from Brooklyn

"Affluent" people don't buy 2nd homes in the Rockaways. You're confusing Queens with the Hamptons. Those condos sold for around $200k, not exactly pricey in a city where a starter apt (studio) in Manhattan or Brownstone Brooklyn starts at $300k. Most Rockaway residents are year round, and they're living there because it's cheap. They're staying in their moldy homes because they can't afford the $4000/mo rents they'd have to pay in other parts of the city.

Mar. 05 2013 10:17 AM
Thomas Cawley from Rockaway Beach

Waiting to see how much I'm offered for my home,as I cannot afford $10,000 for flood Ins. and who knows how much my regular home insurance will be now,have to be realistic here,my home cannot be elevated as suggested by FEMA as a way to avoid huge flood Ins.increases as many homeowners in Rockaway find themselves in a similar situation. We've had hurricanes two years in a row,what if we have another one year or five years from now,will homeowners have the will to rebuild again? I doubt it!

Mar. 05 2013 08:57 AM

WHo is James Farser -- he's an expert? "Putting the nation at risk" -- haha - -the nation needs development on the east coast. We carry this nation.

Mar. 05 2013 06:17 AM
Michael from Brooklyn

This is so typical of the BLOOMBERG administration to say "screw the people that make this city great" and give give give to these with...

Mar. 04 2013 11:23 AM
AC from Queens

This is so ripe for corruption. Sure, they'll build for the "locals." No way. What gives away their (the mayor's) intention is the note that there are limited coastline properties available. They'll get the land and "sell" it to related or some other developer, loaded with tax breaks who will build ridiculously expensive condos. If the land should not be built on, and probably much of it shouldn't be because it is a barrier island, then a big give away to developer buddies is not only unethical, but an unsound plan. This mayor has been in the pocket of the developers for 12 years now, and it just keeps flowing.

Mar. 04 2013 09:40 AM
Robert from Manhattan

No New Yorkers should be surprised that Bloomie is once again helping his rich friends become richer. Its what he's done during all his years as Mayor, and for most of his adult life. Spare me the comments on what an amazing philanthropist his is too. The fact is his actions when he was in a position of power, have all favored the wealthy, at the expense of the poor and middle class. I've lived here 25 years and New York continues to decline in what I would consider a reasonable standard of living for regular working class folks. Also in a note to anyone running to replace Bloomie, (ie Cristine Quinn) if you were responsible for helping him steal a Third term against the term limits New Yorkers twice voted for, then you have ignored the peoples wishes, and will not get my vote.

Mar. 04 2013 09:14 AM
Lisa from NYC

Acquaintances of mine with vacation condos in a new city-sponsored beachfront development in the Rockaways, mostly affluent two-home retirees who did not take out flood insurance, believe the city should have to pay for their clean-up and repair costs. The e-mails I was copied on argued that the city issued the permits, so it is responsible for their damage. Bloomberg's program will simply reinforce such attitudes for the future.

Mar. 04 2013 08:21 AM

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