Sep 13

Sandy buy-out offers in Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach are ‘on the money’

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.



Documentary about Staten Island, Superstorm Sandy and the buyout

Aug 19

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expands Staten Island Sandy buyout zone in Oakwood Beach

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.”


Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 6

Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 5

Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 4

Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 3

Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 2

Jun 20

Letter from Fox Beach Ave

Fox Beach Ave Letter 1

May 06

Staten Island homeowners in limbo

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 in what remained of the seaside community where Superstorm Sandy left three dead, scores of properties either destroyed or badly damaged, and many people still homeless.

“Most of us are like wandering gypsies,” said Joe Szczesny, a 63-year-old MTA Bridges and Tunnels employee. “We’re wandering around in Sandy time, while everyone else is in normal time.”

What drew Mr. Szczesny and others that cloudy afternoon was the hope of taking an important step toward putting their lives back together and rejoining the rest of the world. They gathered to await appraisers sent out to assay their properties in preparation for their purchase by New York state. In his State of the State speech in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that “there are some parcels that Mother Nature owns”—areas where it made more sense not to rebuild but to pay owners the full original value for their properties and allow them to move on.

In Oakwood Beach, owners of nearly 170 of the 184 properties have applied to join the program. More than six months after Sandy hit, however, it is increasingly apparent that in the state as a whole, they are in a distinct minority. Albany officials estimate that of the 10,000 homes in the state severely damaged by the storm, the owners of only 10% to 15% of those eligible for a buyout will go that route. Instead, the vast majority of people are leaning toward rebuilding.

Until the size of expected insurance-rate hikes is known, and federal officials release the final update of flood-zone maps, making the sell-or-stay call will be difficult. Further muddying the waters are differing objectives from the city and state governments, with the former focusing on rebuilding and the latter pushing buyouts, said Joseph Pupello, head of Zone A New York, a group of housing and environmental experts monitoring rehabilitation efforts.

“It’s difficult for homeowners to make decisions,” he said.

A spokesman for the governor notes that the state has several options for homeowners, including not just the buyout, but also storm-mitigation grants designed to “allow people to build back their homes smarter and stronger to protect against another similar weather disaster.” At this point, the one thing that’s clear is that no matter what people decide to do, getting their lives back together will take time, as Oakwood Beach residents have already discovered.

“The process has just started,” said Jerry, a 54-year-old retiree who declined to give his last name. “But to see it getting to this point already is good.” Much of the credit for that has to go the residents themselves, who two weeks after Sandy struck banded together to form the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee. In one of its first acts, the group began lobbying local, city and state officials to pick the neighborhood to be part of a pilot program to return the land to its natural condition.

The eight-person committee met weekly until Mr. Cuomo announced in March that he would seek federal approval for the state’s storm recovery plan, which included Oakwood Beach as a testing ground for the buyout. At the same time, the committee hosted monthly meetings to keep other landowners up to speed on developments.

“If it wasn’t for [the committee], I wouldn’t have a clue what to do,” said Trisha Breslin, a 48-year-old city Department of Education employee whose one-floor home was gutted.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents the east shore of Staten Island, called the Oakwood Beach committee a model for other residents affected by Sandy.

“They advocated, they were very organized, they came to the elected officials,” she said. “It sets a good example for other communities.” Joseph Tirone, a 55-year-old Staten Islander who owns properties in Oakwood Beach that he rented out, was one of those who helped launch the committee. Subsequently, he has become a point man and a sounding board for local homeowners. During the appraisals last month, he was unable to walk through the neighborhood without residents stopping him with a barrage of questions from the sidewalk, their doorsteps or through their car windows as they drove through.

Mr. Tirone got the idea for the buyout from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Agency personnel told him about a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that had been used in Tennessee and in upstate New York’s Essex County following disasters in both places in recent years. Two weeks after Sandy, Mr. Tirone brought the idea of a buyout to a group of about 200 homeowners at a meeting at St. Charles Church on Penn Avenue. When he asked for a show of hands of those interested in such a program, the response was nearly unanimous. “I was not ready for that answer,” Mr. Tirone admitted.

What helped was Oakwood Beach’s history. Over nearly a century, the area has endured a series of natural disasters, from repeated floods to brushfires in the tall grass in the nearby wetlands. In the wake of the latest calamity, some of the area’s original inhabitants—flocks of geese and a handful of deer—have already reappeared. The death and destruction caused by Sandy have persuaded many residents to take Albany’s cash and move on.

Today, many of the dwellings in the buyout area are abandoned and in complete disrepair. Owners of a few others have decided to spend thousands on modest furnishings to make their homes livable while they wait for the buyout.

Cynthia Scarsella, a 48-year-old drug-rehabilitation therapist, has spent $72,000—$12,000 of which was paid out of pocket—repairing the home she bought in 2007 for $285,000. She still wants to move on, but not at any price.

“I am not willing to give my house away for peanuts,” she said.

Most property owners are expecting to get pre-storm value for their homes, with bonuses for property in targeted areas. The average home can go for about $400,000.

For some, however, it’s not time to go. Frank Lettieri, a 63-year-old licensed practical nurse, who early on attended two buyout committee meetings, said he was unpersuaded to give up his family home of 26 years, especially because he figures the next big storm is likely many years away. “I have a nice piece of New York City here,” he said. “If they give us $1 million, I don’t want it.”

Older posts «

» Newer posts