September 9, 2013
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, battered homeowners in Oakwood Beach have begun receiving buyout letters from the state — and they say the offers are “right on the money.” The Advance has learned the average buy-out offer is in the $400,000 range. Despite assurances from the Cuomo administration …View full post
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Cuomo administration has enhanced the home buyout zone in a portion of Oakwood Beach ravaged by superstorm Sandy. About 120 homes on the periphery of Fox Beach were added by the state, bringing to 300 the number of homes eligible for a buyout, with a potential expansion to 510 homes. The area, …View full post
May 03, 2013 10:29 am Staten Island resident Joseph Tirone brought the idea of a buyout group to his neighbors. Photo credit: Buck Ennis A few weeks ago, in the Oakwood Beach section of Staten Island, it looked almost as though some sort of neighborhood reunion was taking place. Former residents milled about and chatted amicably …View full post
ALBANY, N.Y. — The Fox Beach community of Staten island sits only a few blocks from the ocean on wetlands where tall reeds sprout across the landscape. After the lives of three of its residents were lost during Hurricane Sandy and flooding destroyed a number of the small bungalows that make up the community, more …View full post
STATEN ISLAND, NY – Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R,C-SI/Brooklyn) applauds today’s announcement of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s approval of the NYS Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program, which clears the way for home buyout programs: “I applaud Secretary Donovan and Governor Cuomo for expediting the approval of the New …View full post
ALBANY, N.Y. — The Fox Beach community of Staten island sits only a few blocks from the ocean on wetlands where tall reeds sprout across the landscape.
After the lives of three of its residents were lost during Hurricane Sandy and flooding destroyed a number of the small bungalows that make up the community, more than a few people who live in Fox Beach were ready to abandon the previously idyllic area.
A few days after the storm, a large group of local homeowners began meeting in the St. Charles School auditorium to discuss how to move forward and, when the prospect of government buyouts was brought up, the room was casually polled.
“Every person in that auditorium raised their hands,” said Joseph Tirone, who owns a home in Fox Beach and is the head of the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee. He said the homeowners pressed officials for weeks, and eventually caught the attention of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo announced on Feb. 25 that the Fox Beach community, which is a subsection of the larger Oakwood neighborhood, would be the testing ground of his general buyout program designed to return parts of the seashore to a natural state to create a storm buffer.
“There are some places that Mother Nature owns,” Cuomo told the audience at the College of Staten Island. “She may only come to visit every two years or three years or four years. But when she comes to visit, she reclaims the site.”
Weeks later, the buyout program is coming into focus for the Fox Beach community, but what will happen with the rest of storm-ravaged New York is still hazy. For months, homeowners have heard sometimes conflicting reports about the city’s plans, the state’s plans, as well as programs offered through the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Lawmakers and community members say they have been told that the state under Cuomo will be unveiling a number of “enhanced areas” in the next few weeks where homeowners will be able to apply for a buyout worth 100 percent of their homes pre-storm value, with a five percent incentive if they move within their borough. The Cuomo administration has yet to confirm.
The state has allocated $171 million for buyouts, but officials estimate they could ultimately spend $400 million. Officials estimate 10,000 homes were severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy but expect only 10 to 15 percent of owners will take buyouts.
Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration is not billing its efforts as a “buyout” program and will refer those looking for buyouts to the state.
Instead, the Bloomberg administration has also proposed a program that, if approved by U.S. Housing and Urban Development, will allow the city to buy damaged property at post-Sandy rates for redevelopment. The city’s program would appeal to property owners who aren’t part of the “enhanced areas” that would be covered under the state.
City officials say the properties would first be offered to homeowners who are staying and might want a larger yard, or to add to their property. It is unclear exactly how much the city plans to spend on this program.
Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro says his office has received 400 inquiries about home buyouts but is unsure how the programs offered by the city and state will help.
“Almost every block is a different story, every home has a different problem,” Molinaro said. “Some of these people are already underwater on their mortgage.”
Molinaro said it is unclear how those homeowners would benefit from a buyout if the money they get from the city or state does not cover their mortgage and they are left without a home.
He noted, however, that some banks in New Jersey have been working with homeowners to come to mutually beneficial solutions.
“I wouldn’t say there is an easy answer, but it is a problem we are aggressively addressing,” Tirone said. He said he expects banks to work with homeowners who are underwater on their loans and who want to take a buyout.
The press and local officials have underestimated the desire for buyouts, he said. “Elected officials are opposed to buyouts because they can’t visualize unbuilding,” said Trione, who feels city lawmakers have failed to do enough to ensure local homeowners are briefed on all their options.
Tirone recalls the story of a retiree who had tapped out his life savings to make repairs to his house following Sandy. “If he had been made aware that he could get the pre-storm price for his house and buy a new house that is not in a storm zone, he could have been set for life with his savings still intact,” Tirone said.
Molinaro is skeptical of the process so far, saying, “I have not seen any movement yet. The governor said he would buy homes at 100 percent of their value pre-Sandy but I have not seen any purchased yet.”
He emphasized that he has advocated for prioritizing buyouts to homeowners who have completely lost property and who have no mortgage so that they can quickly purchase a new home. Molinaro said he had warned residents that the buyout process can take years.
Randy Douglas, Town Supervisor of Jay, N.Y., knows firsthand that the government buyout process is anything but quick.
The Town of Jay suffered flooding in 1996 and 2008 from the AuSable River; then, in 2011, Hurricane Irene hit and the flooding was worse than ever. Roads, parks, youth facilities and sewer systems were wiped out along with homes. The town nearly lost its iconic covered bridge.
Some residents had simply had enough. Eighty homeowners out of the town’s estimated 2,500 residents were interested in a buyout program — one that paid 75 percent of pre-storm value.
Eighteen months later, residents are just now signing contracts with FEMA for the purchase of their properties. And the number of interested homeowners has dropped to 40.
”Some of them just couldn’t wait due to the length of time,” Douglas said. “A two-year process is way too long. I actually had people pass away during the process. It is just really sad.”
Douglas said he hopes that the concerns of victims of Irene and Lee have helped push officials to expedite the process for other homeowners. (The good news for Douglas: the state has included funds in its Sandy recovery plan to make sure homeowners who are bought out from Irene and Lee get a full 100 percent of their homes’ pre-storm value).
Despite having advocated for buyouts and having helped his residents push through the process, Douglas said there isn’t anything terribly positive about seeing residents decide it is time to pack it up.
“I’ve said since day one this isn’t a good thing,” he continued. “You lose your tax base, you lose families who have lived here for generations and you lose your identity. But with us, we couldn’t continue to put people in harm’s way.”
Douglas said he understands the reluctance of New York City officials to fully back buyouts. “Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants to build back stronger and seems to want to avoid buyouts. I’m not criticizing him because you don’t want to lose these people. You don’t want to give them up,” he said.
Sen. Joe Addabbo of Queens, who represents some of the neighborhoods hardest-hit by Sandy, including Breezy Point where dozens of homes went up in flames, said he has not seen a great deal of interest in buyouts. “We have a lot of longtime homeowners whose families have been here for generations who just want to rebuild. They aren’t looking to go somewhere else,” Addabbo said.
Addabbo acknowledged, though, that there has been confusion about buyouts. “Whenever there is a lack of information there is confusion,” he said, “but I think it will end as we get more information on the two programs in the next two weeks.”
But Addabbo admits he doesn’t favor buyouts — in fact, he thinks they are a bad idea. “Personally, no, I don’t buy into the buyout program so to speak. It is a loss of revenue for the city, and the neighborhood behind that neighborhood loses their storm buffer, I think it causes other problems,” Addabbo said.
The state senator said not enough is being done to address flood mitigation. “What about seawalls, jetties, things that mitigate flood damage? Why aren’t we talking about that? Instead we are gonna buy ‘em out? I don’t want them to leave,” he said. “As an elected official I want them to stay. Whether they have to elevate or [do] flood mitigation — whatever it takes.”
The Fox Beach community of Oakwood was labeled an “enhanced area” where the entire neighborhood was eligible for a buyout. Of the 183 households that were eligible for the state program, 180 have submitted applications according to state officials. Those homeowners are eligible for 100 percent of their homes pre-storm value.
Tirone said he thinks Cuomo’s motivations are completely apolitical. “I truly believe this plan has nothing to do with politics. The governor wants to create a natural buffer for those inland,” he said.
Meanwhile, plans for his neighborhood are developing apace. Homes have been appraised and, although he thinks Cuomo might be unhappy with him for such a bold prediction, he speculated that the process could be completed before the end of the year — a notable accomplishment given that the federal process can take three to five years at times.
But, for now, Tirone is still helping get the word out about the state program. “I get five to 10 calls a day from residents asking me to help them get bought out,” he said.
Image of destroyed home in Oakwood, Staten Island, by Paul Soulellis, used under Creative Commons license.
On Monday, February 25, 2013, Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address at CSI, announced the NYS buyout program. He said “I want to be there for people and communities who want to say, ‘I’m going to give this parcel back to Mother Nature.’” The Foxbeach section of Oakwood Beach is such a community. As such, the Governor has chosen us to initiate his program, and serve as the prototype for rolling out the program to other NYS communities. The number of homes in this “enhanced area”, as described in his plan, is actually 185. 183 homeowners have stepped forward, asking to participate. On March 12, 2013, Governor Cuomo submitted his plan to HUD for approval.
HUD approved the Governor’s Plan on April 25, 2013. Our Foxbeach community will be the first to bought out under this Plan. In August 2013 the Governor’s Office announced phase II of the Oakwood Beach Buyout, adding an additional 100 homes.
In record setting fashion, the Governor will have bought out approximately 25 of the residences before the 1 year anniversary of the storm. It is possible that all homeowners in Phase I (Fox Beach) will complete the Buyout by year end 2013!
On the night of Oct. 29, 2012, with the Atlantic’s waters quickly rising inside his bungalow home in the Fox Beach section of Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, N.Y., Frank Langello fled to the attic, aware that if the waters rose any more, he would be trapped. But he didn’t know what else to do. As Superstorm Sandy bore down, he had stayed behind rather than abandon his family’s pets, and now he listened in the darkness as the walls below collapsed under the weight of the ocean pressing against them.
Both the nor’easter of 2010 and Hurricane Irene of 2011 had flooded the basement and left the Langellos without heat or hot water for weeks, but this was another thing entirely. Now he could feel the house swaying with Sandy’s gusts. He was certain the surging water would soon carry the whole edifice away, drowning all of them together — man, dogs and cat.
On the phone to his wife, Samantha Langello — who had evacuated with their two small children only hours before — he cried, “We’re done. We’re never coming back here again.”
They never did.
For the past year, the Langellos have lived as far inland and as high uphill as they could afford on Staten Island. As Samantha Langello evaluated the elevation of potential rentals, she uttered to herself so frequently, “Water runs downhill,” that soon her 6-year-old son could be heard parroting the mantra.
They will never have to return to Fox Beach, thanks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s buyout program. He announced the buyouts in late February, and Fox Beach was the first Sandy-stricken area to be offered the option: Sell your destroyed home to the state at predisaster value (with additional incentives to make moving on easier) and the state will demolish it and not allow the land to be redeveloped.
This program freed the Langellos of the economic constraints that often force people to rebuild in the same location after an environmental disaster. In fact, the entire neighborhood of Fox Beach is not coming back. All but one of the 185 households in the once thriving working-class community have taken the buyout.
What was a vibrant and friendly community — where at one end children played football in the street and at the other, immigrant Italian grandparents grew tomatoes, squash, figs and persimmons — will eventually disappear. Since these properties can’t be redeveloped, they will be left to revert to nature, which already appears eager to move in; reeds, no longer bound by the fences that were swept away a year ago, now reach 12 feet tall, and grass peeks up through foundations of houses pushed off from where they had stood for decades.
An entire community taking a buyout is not unprecedented. Still, what happens and how in Fox Beach is likely to be watched very closely as a potential model that embraces an idea — managed retreat — that is gaining currency after having lost out 20 years ago to unfettered coastal development, redefining along the way what resilience means in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“The intervals between disasters used to be longer,” said Scott Gabriel Knowles, a professor at Drexel University and the author of “The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.” Of the 10 most devastating hurricanes in the U.S., nine have occurred in the last 10 years.
“We are not living a long stretch of normal life in between disaster,” he said. “We are living in disaster.”
He also points out that in the post–World War II era, more and more Americans are moving to the coasts — 39 percent of the U.S. population now resides there. The sheer level of development along coastal areas, he explained, has increased the frequency of disaster losses.
“The power of the real estate development growth complex is as big as it gets,” Knowles said. “So when government and people stand up to them, there’s maybe a new reality dawning that we cannot just keep doing this.”
Establishing a trend?
Most buyouts — like the New York state program — are 75 percent funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 25 percent by state and local governments. In New York, Cuomo set aside $400 million to buy out Sandy-damaged properties.
Since the early 1970s, voluntary buyouts have been used, though not often, to encourage people in areas prone to repeat flooding to move out or to ensure undeveloped properties remain vacant permanently. But it was not until the devastating flooding in the Midwest in 1993 that government acquisition of flood-prone properties began in earnest.
Buyouts represent a different strategy of hazard mitigation from other flood-control measures, including structural devices such as dams, levees and floodwalls, or the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires homeowners in risk areas to share the costs of potential future disasters by paying into the system pre-emptively. Despite the billions spent on such measures, flood losses continue to mount.
But the effectiveness of buyouts, in terms of money and lives saved, has been tested by subsequent flooding. For example, after 1993 Midwest floods, FEMA estimated that $30 million in flood damage was avoided when the same areas flooded again in 1995.
Buyouts are voluntary. Often it comes down to individual families deciding what makes the most sense for them. For an entire community to take a buyout is rare and requires unity and a collective desire to move, said Jack Rozdilsky, a professor of emergency management at Western Illinois University. For years he has followed the small town of Valmeyer, Ill., which after the 1993 floods took a buyout and used the money to move the entire town together to higher and safer land. Twenty years later, the population has increased from 900 to 1,200 and is growing. Old Valmeyer has since been reclaimed by nature, as will likely happen in Fox Beach, though Rozdilsky said a visitor might still see a hint of a linear street grid or an occasional mailbox or streetlight poking out through the long grasses.
But Valmeyer was the exception. Most of the other Midwestern towns rebuilt, taking measures to mitigate damage from flooding.
Fox Beach, Rozdilsky said, has the potential to establish a trend.
“If we can do buyouts in these dense areas, then we can do it in other parts of the country. If it could work in Staten Island, then it can work in other hazard-prone areas like the Gulf Coast, Texas.”
Of course, the other costs involved in buyouts — such as the social ones of scattering a community and breaking often long-established bonds — are much harder to quantify. The Langellos plan to move back to their native Pennsylvania, which regrettably means giving up their neighbors.
“I wish I could just move everyone with me,” Samantha Langello said.
‘I could finally exhale’
The day after Frank Langello was rescued by a neighbor that October, Samantha Langello returned to see what was left of Fox Beach. Some houses had vanished, while pieces of others were strewn among the phragmites, on roofs and inside other houses. The National Guard was on her street, and so was the New York Police Department; three neighbors had died, including the man with the easy smile who delivered the weekly coupon circular. Standing outside her house, she could see the floors and ceilings of her basement and living room stacked like pancakes. Much of the drywall had been eaten away by the saltwater, exposing the house’s electrical and plumbing innards.
They had worked for a year to piece together the financing to buy the house. If it had been worth anything at all after Sandy, it would have been only a small fraction of what they had paid. Their insurance, which included flood insurance required by their mortgage holder, would not cover all the damage. And even if they repaired the house, they would never be able to recoup what they had paid for it or what they had put in to fix it. They felt as if they were drowning.
Then in November, a neighborhood meeting was called. After a 1992 nor’easter severely flooded the community, neighbors formed a flood-victim group that remained somewhat active, enough so that the community was able to mobilize relatively quickly. Joe Tirone, a real estate agent who owned one of the homes, attended. Because he bought the house in cash, he had not been required to have flood insurance, and he had already begun researching buyouts. After he told the Fox Beach residents what he had learned, it became clear many of the other residents were similarly interested.
They began to work together toward the goal of being bought out by the state. Their efforts were successful. After Cuomo announced the state’s plan to buy out properties, Fox Beach was the first community offered the option.
“I could finally exhale,” said Samantha Langello, describing her reaction to the news that they would be bought out. She credits Tirone’s leadership.
Tirone credits Cuomo, who served as the Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Bill Clinton, for knowing how to navigate the funding of the buyouts — drawing on what he learned from the slow-going buyouts offered to small upstate towns after Hurricane Irene — to create a process that residents of Fox Beach have so far been satisfied with.
As of today, 15 Fox Beach residents have closed on their buyout deals. Another 50 are expected to be done by the anniversary of Sandy this week. The Langellos have a closing date of Nov. 1.
Challenging the narrative
At a news conference with Cuomo in April discussing the state’s post-Sandy efforts, Sen. Charles Schumer said that, other than a handful of people who want to relocate, most people wanted to rebuild.
“I think that’s great,” he said. “That shows the spirit of New York.”
He was alluding to the grit New Yorkers are often celebrated for and to an American ideal of indefatigable resolve in the face of challenges.
“It’s built into our culture. We take pride in toughing it out, in building back stronger,” said David Salvesen, deputy director at the Center for Sustainable Community Design at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “After disasters, we make T-shirts that say ‘I survived.’”
Even though it’s a foggy term that can mean different things, resilience — with its positive imprimatur — is often understood to mean rebuilding. Whereas re-evaluating the costs and benefits of living in hazard-prone areas is considered retreat.
In June at the unveiling of a voluminous report detailing New York City’s assessment of Sandy’s impact and the risks posed by climate change, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that despite the threat of rising sea levels and the possibility of storms worse than Sandy, the city should continue to build along the waterfront but build better.
“As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront,” he said. “We must protect it, not retreat from it.”
Earlier, Bloomberg had revealed his own plan to acquire damaged homes, but at post-Sandy prices, which allows the city to redevelop the properties.
“Retreat sounds inherently un-American,” said Rutherford H. Platt, a professor emeritus of geography at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Indeed, climate migration has not been a part of the American experience as much as it has in other parts of the world, where the costs in the aftermath of disaster are too great to allow for an assumption of the same risk again, especially where there are no government subsidies to mitigate those costs.
But this might be changing — flood-insurance premiums are going up (as per changes made to the National Flood Insurance Program under the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act), and repeated flooding and its trauma are convincing people they’d rather be called wimps than experience that suffering again.
“We use words like ‘retreat’ and ‘conquer storm’ and ‘control river.’ — That concept is evolving from controlling nature to living with it, but these aren’t easy things to do,” said Salvesen.
Platt added, “‘Adaptation’ might be a better term, which would cover both strategies of making buildings less flood prone wherever they are located by moving up vertically or providing some kind of shore protection or moving inland and abandoning a structure or moving it.”
Similarly, the meaning of “resilience” continues to expand. The word no longer describes just people; planners, developers and politicians talk about resilient buildings, communities and cities as well.
“You have to answer what resilience means differentially at different scales,” said James Kendra, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. “For example, a community has some geographic location. So community resilience means building back or building better, being less vulnerable. At a household level, that might mean taking a buyout or not, as in the middle class, the house is a principal way of transmitting wealth. As we shift to more virtual kinds of social systems, that assessment also shifts.”
And what resilience in the face of Sandy-like disasters looks like might also be changing as people who have to bear the consequences of tempting nature break away from the groupthink.
Samantha Langello, after reading critical comments on articles she saw online about Sandy and the buyouts, vehemently defended her choice as a form of resilience.
“It is more resilient that we started fresh,” she said. “I didn’t lie down and roll over because I walked away from my home. I picked myself up. I put a roof over my kids’ head within days of the storm. I didn’t stand here with my hand out. I acted. And I made the situation better for my family.
“That’s resilience to me.”
The Associated Press
The forces of nature had been threatening the Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach neighborhood for years, flooding the streets every time it rained, sending crabs skittering into bungalows and swamping basements so regularly that it was just accepted as part of life.
But after Superstorm Sandy swept in with 20-foot waves that crashed over roofs and killed three people, those who have lived here for generations decided it was time to go. Soon, the state will buy some 400 homes, bulldoze them and never again allow anything to be built here.
Oakwood Beach will finally surrender to the sea.
“The heartache of losing my home, the heartache of losing my memories, the blood and sweat and tears that I put into this home, is going to be healed by seeing trees and nature come back to that spot right there,” said Joe Monte, a construction worker who had built his dream house overlooking the ocean. “And that’s going to make me feel better.”
The neighborhood is the first _ and so far only _ New York City community to be totally bought out under a state program that promises to turn wrecked neighborhoods into perpetual green space.
“The chances of us being able to sell this house at a later date and move on really were slim,” said Danielle Mancuso, who is being bought out of the attached duplex she lives in with her husband and three young children. “Who could afford to pay the flood insurance premium? Because we’re all attached, we could not elevate. We would really just be sitting ducks.”
The state of New York plans to spend up to $400 million buying out and knocking down homes in Sandy-affected communities in the city and on Long Island, offering residents the pre-storm value of their houses. In New Jersey, the state is planning to spend about $300 million to buy about 1,000 damaged homes.
Most homeowners in Oakwood Beach have already applied and are proceeding toward the state’s offer to purchase. The first house was demolished last week, and the state has already bought about a dozen homes. New Jersey officials purchased their first two homes last week.
Getting a buyout is the equivalent of winning the lottery for homeowners who lost everything during the storm, although not all residents want to be bought out. On New York City’s Rockaway peninsula, for example, homeowners are determined to stay put and rebuild.
Much of the clamor for buyouts is coming from Staten Island, where waves slammed against third-floor windows and 23 people drowned, most of them trapped inside their own homes.
Although Oakwood Beach’s buyout push has been a success, the future is far less certain for hundreds of people who have signed petitions demanding the same deal in nearly every other devastated shorefront community on Staten Island: New Dorp Beach, Midland Beach, Ocean Breeze and Tottenville, among others.
Right now, those areas are only eligible for a city program that buys individual properties for redevelopment _ a program that so far has purchased only one home. But because many have yet to receive a dime from the city’s Sandy aid programs, they’re skeptical.
In Ocean Breeze, a neighborhood that remains mostly deserted since the storm, about half of the 120 homeowners have signed a petition requesting a buyout from the governor’s office.
“We’re below sea level,” said Frank Moszczynski, who lives on a creekfront block where one house floated across the street and several others were demolished. “We’re in a bowl that was created at the end of the ice age.”
State officials say they chose to buy out Oakwood Beach after analyzing historical flooding data and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s scientific flood maps. The other crucial factor was quick mobilization: residents began marshaling resources for a buyout the day after Sandy hit.
Among them was Patti Snyder, who grew up on the block and never left. Her brother, Leonard Montalto, lived down the street. Two days after the storm, when his body was found amid the ruins of his home, Snyder knew it was over.
“That’s when we knew we weren’t going to rebuild at that point,” she said. “It just took everything out of us.”
Monte was standing in the middle of his flooded home the day after Sandy, ankle-deep in toxic sludge, when he realized his house was beyond saving. He walked out and hasn’t gone back in since.
He still can’t bring himself to approach the side of the house where his good friend, John Filipowicz, used to show up with a six-pack of beers and burgers to grill after work. Filipowicz died, along with his son, in the basement of their home.
“I am not the person that I was because of what happened,” Monte said. “I have trouble with everything. … I have trouble with just being a person.”
The residents of Oakwood Beach are still working out the details of their buyouts but rest easier knowing they’ll receive the pre-Sandy value of their homes _ enough to set up somewhere far from shore.
Monte grew up poor in Brooklyn and always vowed to give his two daughters a home they could be proud of. Twelve years and more than $500,000 later, he had transformed his bungalow into a beautiful, slate-gray home with a widow’s peak at the top. On clear nights, he’d sit on the second-story deck and watch the lit-up Staten Island Ferry crossing the bay.
Now the swimming pool that he worked so hard to afford has been overtaken by nature. Minnows dart among seaweed and algae in the murky water. Halloween decorations that adorned the house last fall are still lying on the patio.
When Oakwood Beach is at last returned to nature, Monte hopes a memorial plaque will be erected on a tree or a park bench to remember his neighbors who died. But he won’t come back to see it.
“I don’t want to remember Sandy. I don’t want to remember my neighbors dying in a storm. I want to remember the good times,” he said. “They’ve got to level this whole area. Get it over with, get it done. Get the beauty back to this neighborhood.”
To here the NPR story click below
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It’s MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I’m Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I’m Renee Montagne. A year after Hurricane Sandy, the recovery in some of New York City’s hardest-hit neighborhoods is far from complete. In the borough of Staten Island, some families have been rebuilding their homes and their lives. Others are ready to sell their flood-damaged properties and move on, and many others seem to be caught somewhere in the middle, as NPR’s Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: After Sandy, the south shore of Staten Island looked like it had been hit by a tsunami. The storm surge devastated whole neighborhoods suddenly, in a matter of hours. But the recovery has been slow and uneven.
JOE SALLUZZO: There’s a house over there. It’s empty. This house is empty. A couple more down that are empty.
ROSE: Joe Salluzzo lives in a neighborhood called New Dorp Beach, a few blocks from the ocean. He rode out the storm on the second story of his brick bungalow, which he’s been repairing himself ever since.
SALLUZZO: People, they’re coming back little by little.
ROSE: Are you staying?
SALLUZZO: Yeah. I’m not going nowhere. This is the only house that I got.
ROSE: Around the corner, Linda Azzara is basking in the sunshine on the deck in her front yard. A year ago, she was clinging to it for dear life as the flood waters rose.
LINDA AZZARA: We were the last family rescued here. They took us out from the top step, in a boat.
ROSE: Today, Azzara’s yard is immaculate. And her house is in good shape, too. But Azzara says the repairs cost her $80,000 out of her own pocket. Azzara says her insurance company was no help. She says few of her neighbors saw any payments from theirs, either. Officials at FEMA say they’ve distributed more than $8 billion in total disaster assistance in New York. But in her neighborhood, Azzara says that help has been inconsistent.
AZZARA: I think it was who came to your house. If you were lucky to get somebody with a little heart, they helped you. If not, they gave you $200.
ROSE: Azzara has a red-and-white sign on her fence that says: We are staying. You see the same sign in windows and front yards up and down her block. But for many of her neighbors, the hard work continues.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRILLING)
ROSE: Electricians are still working on the house next door. A few houses on the block have new windows and doors. Others look like they’ve been abandoned since the storm.
SCOTT MCGRATH: Everybody thinks a year later, we’re New York, and it’s – everybody’s fine and dandy. No, it isn’t. It’s real out there. It’s still a lot of people needing help.
ROSE: Scott McGrath lives across the street. He and his wife started a non-profit organization called Beacon of Hope New York to help rebuild the neighborhood. They made the yard signs that say: We are staying. But McGrath admits that not everyone will. Like many of his neighbors, McGrath has to decide whether to meet new requirements to raise his house further off the ground or face a huge jump in his flood insurance premiums.
MCGRATH: You can walk up and down the block, and you’re going to see for sale signs in a lot of areas. They’re selling their homes due to the fact that they’re not going to be able to pay that flood insurance, so you might as well cut your losses now. A lot of people are going take a hit on their property.
ROSE: Homeowners across the region are finding they can’t sell their houses for anything near what they were worth before the storm. But in another part of Staten Island, there is one big exception to that rule.
SAMANTHA LANGELLO: It kind of just melted. The saltwater, like, just ate through the sheetrock.
ROSE: Samantha Langello opens the door to her house in the Fox Beach neighborhood, or what’s left of it. Sandy was the third big flood here in five years. So, when the state offered to buy these homeowners out at pre-storm values, almost all of them jumped at the chance. Real estate broker Joseph Tirone, who owns a rental property in Fox Beach, helped organize the effort. Tirone says the first checks went out this month.
JOSEPH TIRONE: Rebuilding was not an option here, not in this area. When they start getting their checks, I think initially, they’re going to be extremely happy. But I think walking away from their home, I think that’s going to be tough on them.
LANGELLO: Sad and relief are probably the two main emotions.
ROSE: Homeowner Samantha Langello, toting a two-year-old on her hip, says it’s not easy to watch the neighborhood where she’s been raising her two young children turn back into marshland.
LANGELLO: When I come here, when I think about them knocking it down, it’s super sad. Like, I can picture my son being, like, my daughter’s age and – I’m sorry. I’ve got to take a second.
ROSE: But at the same time, Langello knows her family is lucky to be getting the buyout.
LANGELLO: You get a little tired of picking up your wet, sea-smelling clothes and going through things to see what you can salvage. In that sense, I’m relieved that I won’t have to deal with the clean-up ever again.
ROSE: Langello hopes other Sandy victims can know that feeling, too. But for most, that sense of relief may still be months or years away. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, battered homeowners in Oakwood Beach have begun receiving buyout letters from the state — and they say the offers are “right on the money.”
The Advance has learned the average buy-out offer is in the $400,000 range.
Despite assurances from the Cuomo administration early on that the offers would be based on the pre-Sandy value of the houses, rumors were rife that residents would only wind up receiving half of what their homes were worth before the Oct. 29-30, 2012 superstorm hit, destroying everything in its path in Staten Island’s beach communities.
But the offers “have been more than fair,” said Joe Tirone, who formed the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee, the pilot program for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s return-to-Mother Nature mantra.
Tirone, a real-estate agent who owns a Fox Beach Avenue house that he rented out, was among the first to get a written offer last week. He expects to close on the deal by Nov. 1.
Although he declined to provide particulars about the offer the state made him, Tirone said it was “absolutely pre-storm market value.”
While the Cuomo administration did not respond to requests for comment, Tirone said that of the 185 homeowners from the Fox Beach community who signed up to participate, 30 to 60 have received letters so far from the Recreate New York Smart Home Buyout Program.
It’s administered by the state and funded by the federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recover Program.
“In general,” Tirone said, “the appraisals given to the community were very fair … They were right on the money.”
He said the “few” homeowners who were not pleased with the offers they received are free to pay for their own appraisal and negotiate an appeal with the state.
Tirone also described three homeowners as “holdouts,” who do not want to participate in the buyouts, including one each on Fox Beach Avenue, Fox Lane and Kissam Avenue.
But that could change, he said, once the tear-downs begin.
While no date certain has been set for that, Tirone noted that “the purpose of this is to create a barrier for inland portions of Staten Island” to repel future storm surges.
Once the buyout offer is received, said Tirone, homeowners must sign on the dotted line, including acknowledgment that the program is voluntary — and that they have the ability to back out right up until the last minute.
“They have made it as least-stressful as possible,” said Tirone.
Transfer taxes and closing costs are included, he added, “making it more than fair.”
While homeowners may choose to hire their own attorney, Tirone said he is not, happy to have the state handle the legal legwork along with his case manager at Pro Source Technology, Bloomfield, which the state hired to handle the process.
Samantha Langello, another Fox Beach Avenue homeowner, said the buy-out offer she received from the state “surpassed my expectations.”
She said she and her husband, Frank, were concerned about facing foreclosure and having their credit rating destroyed.
“It (the buy-out) saved us from that,” said Mrs. Langello, who is currently living with her husband and two young children in an Emerson Hill rental. “This has shed a light at the end of the tunnel. We are ecstatic, elated.”
Her brother-in-law, Christopher Bowden, who lived a few houses away on Fox Beach Avenue, called the buy-out offer he received “very fair; they gave us market price.”
“Days after the storm, everybody mobilized,” said Bowden, who relocated his family to Great Kills. “Everybody was on the same page. And they (the state) actually took us seriously.”
Meanwhile, “invitations” to apply for buyouts have been received by 200-plus homeowners elsewhere in Oakwood, said Tirone.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Cuomo administration has enhanced the home buyout zone in a portion of Oakwood Beach ravaged by superstorm Sandy.
About 120 homes on the periphery of Fox Beach were added by the state, bringing to 300 the number of homes eligible for a buyout, with a potential expansion to 510 homes.
The area, which borders city, state and federally-owned land, includes Riga Street, Merkel Place and Delwit Avenue, which were initially left out of the enhanced buyout area outlined by the state.
The homes are now eligible for a pre-storm value buyout, along with a 10 percent incentive if the homeowners remain residents of Staten Island.
“The damage caused by superstorm Sandy was nothing short of devastating, and no one knows that more than the homeowners whose lives were turned upside-down,” said Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The state’s buyout program is an important opportunity for those impacted New Yorkers to truly have a fresh start, and expanding the coverage zone to include these additional residents was the right thing to do as we continue to build back smarter and stronger than before.”
Joe Tirone of the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee had words of praise: “I think it’s great. That area is perfect for what the governor has identified as criteria to be considered. It is surrounded by the Blue Belt. It acts as a buffer for the inland portion going toward Hylan Boulevard. All of these homes were substantially damaged.”
In a joint letter to Cuomo in May, state Sens. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) and Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) asked him to consider the expansion.
They noted the area is 50 feet from the enhanced Oakwood Beach buyout zone the governor highlighted during a visit to Staten Island announcing the program. They said Riga Street and Delwit Avenue are south of Mill Road and bounded by an estuary of salt tidal marsh bordering Fox Beach Lane and Kissam Avenue.
They said that while some residents moved back home, they still want to be bought out because they are “consistently inundated by flooding.”
Ms. Savino called the enhancement “wonderful news,” but added: “The fight continues to have sections of South Beach, like Sunnymeade Village, sections of Great Kills Beach, Midland Beach, Ocean Breeze and New Dorp Beach included in new or expanded enhanced zones.”