Superstorm Sandy Two-Year Anniversary: NYC Homeowners Finally Get Homes Fixed
Superstorm Sandy Two-Year Anniversary: NYC Homeowners Finally Get Homes Fixed

NEW YORK—Margurie Batts heard a loud noise, and then the water came in.

The storm surge from nearby Coney Island Creek and the Atlantic Ocean rushed into Batts’s home, and reached up to the edge of the second floor. 

Luckily, Batts was living on the second floor. Her first floor tenant, a family of four, had evacuated ahead of warnings that Superstorm Sandy could flood low-lying coastal areas.

For over a month, Batts stayed at her son’s home in Long Island. She moved back into her house after the city installed an emergency boiler and got hot water running. But it would be almost two years later when she would finally get her house fixed.

“Anytime you have a void in your life, it isn’t pleasant,” Batts said, an 80-year-old retired postal worker. “But you can’t have it wearing and tearing on you.”

Batts has owned her home on Neptune Ave. in Coney Island for the past 37 years. “I was waiting for my season to come, and it finally has.”

Batts’s home is now getting repairs from the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, through a new city partnership with local community organizations that the mayor announced on Wednesday, the second-year anniversary since Sandy hit. 

The 2012 storm killed 44 New Yorkers and cost the city $19 billion in losses.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio paints a wall at a Superstorm-Sandy-damaged home in Coney Island, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. On Wednesday, the city announced a collaboration with local nonprofits and community organizations that would link homeowners to repair services. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio paints a wall at a Superstorm-Sandy-damaged home in Coney Island, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. On Wednesday, the city announced a collaboration with local nonprofits and community organizations that would link homeowners to repair services. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)

Build it Back

Build It Back (BIB), the city’s federally funded recovery program for homeowners affected by Sandy, will now contract with nonprofits and community organizations to rebuild homes. 

The expansion will allow the city to link homeowners to services from these groups, even if they previously could not qualify for the program because they didn’t meet the federal eligibility requirements. Batts is one such example.

The program launched in June 2013, and had close to 21,000 homeowners signing up. But help was slow to arrive: in April this year, only 30 reimbursement checks were mailed out and construction began on just nine homes, according to an Epoch Times report published this May.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that to date, 762 homes have begun construction, and 1,090 checks have been mailed out. Almost 6,500 applicants were offered a rebuilding plan through the program, of which 4,100 accepted it.

“We need to reach everyone in need,” the mayor said at a press conference outside Batts’s home. 

He along with the first lady, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, council members Mark Treyger and Brad Lander, and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams were among a group of elected officials who volunteered to paint and varnish Batts’s home on Wednesday. 

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito paints varnish on a fence at a Superstorm-Sandy-damaged home in Coney Island, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. On Wednesday, the city announced a collaboration with local nonprofits and community organizations that would link homeowners to repair services. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito paints varnish on a fence at a Superstorm-Sandy-damaged home in Coney Island, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)

The mayor noted that many local organizations were able to help in the storm’s immediate aftermath, when the city’s resources were stretched thin. “It was clear the first responders in many cases, who got there with the greatest impact, the earliest impact, were the community-based organizations, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations,” de Blasio said.

Habitat for Humanity’s New York chapter began a home repair program for Sandy-damaged homes in Staten Island in the spring of 2013. This May, the organization expanded the program to Coney Island. 

In all, volunteers and staff have begun work in roughly 100 homes, 38 of them fully repaired, said John Cruz, a site construction supervisor at the organization.

Cruz began work on Batts’s home about two-and-a-half months ago. “When we got here, there was pretty much nothing fixed,” Cruz said. The entire first floor had to be gutted out. 

The repairs are about 80 percent completed, and Cruz hopes to finish by the week of Thanksgiving.

Over 200 volunteers have worked on Batts’s home so far. Nina Missick, 23, and Heather Alford, 24, both began volunteering this summer. They endure a four-hour round-trip commute every Saturday to help out.

Missick didn’t realize the full extent of the storm’s impact, since her home neighborhood of Harlem went relatively unscathed. “I was surprised that a lot of people still needed help,” Missick said. 

Alford said that at the end of the day, they’re glad to be able to assist. “In the first year [after Sandy], things were on hold. Things didn’t get done,” she said.

Local council member and chair of the City Council’s committee on storm recovery and resiliency, Mark Treyger said he was glad to finally see “signs of progress,” which didn’t exist last year. 

“Communication has improved a lot,” Treyger said. “The problem is with capacity, but the partnership with Habitat for Humanity should improve that,” he said.

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