Appeal in Hurricane Sandy Evacuee Case Heard by Appellate Court

By Genevieve Belmaker, Epoch Times
September 27, 2013 8:31 am Last Updated: September 30, 2013 8:00 pm

NEW YORK—A bid by the city to end a long-running and expensive program for Hurricane Sandy evacuees landed in the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division on Sept. 26. 

A motion filed by the City of New York has asked the court’s panel of five judges to overturn a decision by Judge Margaret Chan that would allow the evacuees to continue living in hotels after federal money runs out at the end of the month. 

Chan is also considering a separate motion by the city to rescind a May 15 decision she made that kept evacuees from being evicted from hotels. At that time, her decision took into consideration incoming federal funds that the city could use to pay for the program. 

The cost of the hotel program so far, about $73.5 million, will be covered by a reimbursement from FEMA that came through earlier this month. But as of Oct. 1, the city wants the remaining approximately 350 evacuees to find alternative shelter. The best option presented on behalf of the city to the appellate judges on Sept. 26 was homeless shelters. 

“We’re empathetic,” said city attorney Fay Ng with the New York City Law Dept. during the Thursday hearing. She added that one of the most viable options for the evacuees after almost one year of living in hotels in the city’s assistance program is to “enter the shelter system.”

She added that part of the challenge for the city in continuing the program is that “there is no way to estimate when” evacuees will be able to leave.

Many evacuees in the hotels have had trouble getting housing or understanding how to apply for different types of assistance. There have also been widespread complaints about the difficulty of navigating the complex administration of the assistance system. Much of evacuee dealings have been with third-party case workers hired by the city. 

Some lived with extremely difficult personal circumstances prior to the storm, and becoming homeless exacerbated things for them, according to Joshua Goldfein, Legal Aid Society attorney. Legal Aid is co-counsel with Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP representing the evacuees. 

“They’re a very unique population,” Goldfein told the judges. “Probably the most unique population I’ve seen in 20 years working at Legal Aid.”

The judges asked a series of questions of both sides for clarification. It was only near the end of the 15-minute hearing, though, that their questions toward the city became more pointed. 

“You’re concerned with the plaintiffs?” Judge Rolando Acosta asked city attorney Ng, and added that “there’s legal issues and then there are other issues.”

There is no word yet on when either court will come back with a decision.