In Staten Island, a Post-Sandy Rumor Mill
Friday, May 03, 2013
New York City's Sandy recovery is in a kind of limbo. Although a thousand people remain displaced, most homeowners affected by the storm have gotten past the emergency phase and are now wondering about the future. But the information they need to decide whether to stay in their homes—new insurance rates based on revised FEMA flood maps, the particulars of the city's buyout program—is at least a month from being released.
So they wait, as rumors circulate.
"Hearsay," said Stephen Drimalas while standing outside his bungalow on Buel Avenue in Ocean Breeze, which has been renovated but not elevated. "That's all it is out there right now."
Drimalas says he's interested in a buyout. Under the city's plan, a developer could tear down acquired houses and replace them with more flood resistant structures. But that makes Drimalas worry that his home, and tight-knit block, could give way to luxury housing.
The city's director of Housing Recovery Operations, Brad Gair, says that fear is misplaced.
"We're not out to take advantage of anybody," he said. "We're not out there to be part of some secret government plot to redevelop neighborhoods in a way that forces out the poor."
Gair spoke by phone as he was leaving a meeting with the Staten Island Borough President. He acknowledged that thousands of homeowners affected by Sandy face complicated decisions.
He acknowledged that rumors can be plentiful when facts are hard to find. So in June, Gair will send 200 housing recovery specialists into storm-damaged areas. Their job will be to answer homeowners' questions and help them with their paperwork.
"We're going to start a very aggressive outreach program that we hope will get to everybody quickly," he said.
So far, the city has tried to get information out through its website and community meetings. But Gair admits that tactic is limited. Almost every homeowner has detailed questions that need to be answered one on one. If the specialists do their jobs right, homeowners in flood zones will start deciding next month about whether to stay or go.