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5 Years After Sandy, Here's How NYC is Spending Billions in Federal Aid

By Katie Honan | October 26, 2017 6:37am | Updated on October 26, 2017 3:40pm
 A home crushed during Hurricane Sandy. The city spent one of the largest shares of its federal aid on housing recovery from the 2012 storm.
A home crushed during Hurricane Sandy. The city spent one of the largest shares of its federal aid on housing recovery from the 2012 storm.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

NEW YORK CITY — Hurricane Sandy hit the city after dusk Oct. 29, 2012, killing 44 people, flooding entire neighborhoods and subways, and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of residents.

Thousands of homes were damaged or completely destroyed by the flooding, wind, and fires that broke out at the height of the storm. It also caused an estimated $19 billion in damages throughout the city, resulting in one of the largest federal relief payouts in history.

The Hurricane Sandy federal relief bill, which provided more than $50 billion for recovery, was approved by Congress in January 2013, months after the storm devastated parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

New York City received more than $13 billion from the funds, the largest share of money.

Those dollars were allocated through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, which so far total more than $9 billion, and a grant by Housing and Urban Development, which allocated $4.21 billion in disaster aid.

While HUD's grant total is set, the city can continue applying for relief money from FEMA for work done to fix storm damage, according to officials. 

Private insurance claims for Sandy, which covered auto, home, and business insurance payouts, were more than $18 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute. About half of those payouts went to New York State policyholders. In addition, FEMA's National Flood Insurance program paid an additional $8.6 billion in flood claims for the storm.

Non-profits raised millions for storm victims, such as The Robin Hood Foundation, which raised more than $82 million from donations and their 12/12/12 Concert. The money was given to dozens of organizations in New York and New Jersey.

In 2013, the City Council passed a bill requiring the city to create a tracker that shows the federal money received, and how it was being spent. 

Here’s where the Sandy recovery money has gone, five years after the storm:

Housing

A large share of the HUD and FEMA money went to rebuild and repair homes and apartment buildings damaged by the storm, including city-owned public housing and private homes.

• NYCHA

Of the $5.9 billion from FEMA, $2.9 billion has been set aside for the New York City Housing Authority, which will improve more than 250 buildings inside 30 developments damaged by the storm. HUD also allocated more than $317 million. 

NYCHA work also includes repairs to strengthen the decades-old buildings from future storms — including elevating boilers and electrical work, installing backup generators and dry flood-proofing and wet-flood proofing buildings, according to FEMA.

The largest share of funds went to the Red Hook Houses; Red Hook West will receive more than $240 million, and Red Hook East will receive more than $197 million in work.

The Ocean Bay houses in Edgemere, which includes the oceanside and bayside buildings, will receive more than $347 million in repairs. 

Here's the Full List of FEMA Funding for NYCHA Buildings

Despite the influx of money, work on these developments was slow to begin, due in part to NYCHA receiving the money in December 2015.

One project on the Lower East Side, LES V, has been finished, while 17 other major projects — which includes 129 buildings — are in construction, according to NYCHA. Those buildings include the ocean and bay side of the Ocean Bay Houses in Edgemere, Carleton Manor in Arverne and the Astoria Houses

2012: As Red Hook Residents Plead for Heat and Hot Water, NYCHA Goes Door-to-Door
► 2017: Sandy-Damaged NYCHA Developments May Not Be Fixed Until 2021, Official Says

• Build It Back

The city's Build It Back program received nearly $3 billion for its program through HUD to rebuild, renovate, and elevate privately-owned single and multi-family homes wrecked by the storm. It also refunded homeowners money for work done on their own and paid for buyouts, awarding up to $150,000 in addition to the value of a home.

Homeowners were required to have had flood insurance, and paid a percentage into their home's construction. The program reimbursed for moving costs and rent for the time residents were displaced due to construction. 

READ MORE: DNAinfo's Build It Back Coverage 

But the program has been plagued by problems and delays, with the cost of renovations ballooning to nearly $1 million to elevate some individual homes.

The first director of Build It Back, Brad Gair, in 2016 even called it a "categorical failure" — saying the program, like so many other post-disaster programs, are not equipped to help people as fast as they need.

As of October 2017, 4,079 single-family homes were completed. Less than 900 more are still under construction. The program also assisted multi-family buildings, and have so far completed 59 projects.

Hospitals

Several public and private hospitals were damaged during the storm and received nearly $3 billion from FEMA to make repairs.

At the height of the storm, the basement of Coney Island Hospital was flooded to its ceiling, and the water was ankle deep on the first floor. Electrical panels and other vital utilities were destroyed. Bellevue Hospital's basement flooded, which knocked out power and vital utilities.

City-owned and private hospitals received billions for needed repairs and hazard mitigation projects.

HHC Consolidated Bellevue, Coler Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility, and Metropolitan hospitals in Manhattan, as well as Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, will have major repairs funded with $1.8 billion.

READ MORE: Coney Island Hospital Evacuates Patients

NYU Langone received $1.1 billion for repairs and hazard mitigation of its electrical, plumbing and security systems at multiple sites within its campus.

Staten Island University Hospital received $28 million from HUD to protect and elevate electrical systems. 

Schools

Before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed public schools for the more than 1.1 million students in New York City. Schools re-opened the following Monday but it was months before thousands of students could returned to their own classrooms.

A total of 57 schools were damaged due to the storm, with displaced students being sent around the city to continue class. Some schools didn't re-open for months.

The Department of Education received more than $37 million for repairs to damaged schools. The School Construction authority received more than $686 million for major reconstruction and repair to the more than two dozen schools that flooded from the storm.

The City University of New York received $25 million to fund evacuation shelters that were open during the storm, and repair waterfront structures that were damaged.

► Parks

Coastal parks and playgrounds around the city were decimated by Sandy, including the boardwalk on the Rockaway peninsula.

The Parks Department received $480 million from FEMA to rebuild the 5.5-mile stretch stronger than ever. The wood esplanade was replaced with concrete, designed as a barrier for future storms. The project was completed in May 2016.

READ MORE: Rebuilt Rockaway Boardwalk Finally Complete, Nearly 5 Years After Hurricane

The Parks Department received an additional $120 million from FEMA to repair other properties. Those include the Tiffany Street Pier in The Bronx; the Staten Island Community Service Friendship Club; Wolfe’s Pond Berm and Midland Beach Comfort Station on Staten Island; the 79th Street Marina in Manhattan; as well as play areas in Rockaway Beach and the World's Fair Marina in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

"From the complete destruction of the Rockaway Boardwalk to recreational assets and natural habitats broken up by wind and water, New York City’s parks were faced with unprecedented damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy," Commissioner Mitchell Silver said.

"Five years on, we’ve made incredible progress thanks in great part to our collaboration with FEMA. The Rockaway Boardwalk has been rebuilt stronger than ever, Coney Island’s iconic Steeplechase Pier was restored, and we’ve created new design guidelines that will help us to build smarter in flood zones moving forward."

Roads and Transportation

More than $174 million was spent on roads, bridges and other transportation hubs, including nearly $40 million to fix traffic signals across the city and more than $250.8 million to build new boats for the Staten Island Ferry.

A Federal Highway Administration grant awarded more than $35 million to the Department of Transportation to make necessary road repairs.

 Major Resiliency Projects

Through the HUD grant, the city allocated $472 million for resiliency projects, many along the coast. Staten Island University Hospital's flood prevention was also funded with this money.

The projects include work to strengthen shorelines within the five boroughs, and a lot of the money was awarded through a "Rebuild By Design" contest facilitated through HUD. The money has so far been used to heavy community engagement and studies — and many of the plans haven't been implemented so far. Some of these projects include:

• Construction of a double dune system in Breezy Point, which will help mitigate strong tides during a storm, received more than $14 million in funds. 

• The East Side resiliency plan is funded with $338 million and will strengthen neighborhoods along the East River, from Montgomery to East 23rd streets. The plan includes adding flood protection to the Con Ed plant, elevating sections of the FDR Drive, adding a protective berm and opening up waterfront connections for residents.

• A resiliency project in Hunts Point, which is still in the planning stage, received $45 million. The money is being used to work with local community residents to identify flood-prone areas, and then firm-up the shoreline and protect low-lying businesses and blocks.

• A Coney Island Resiliency Study received $15 million to identify flood-proof measures for the Coney Island Creek, improve storm water drainage, and add other ways to mitigate floods. 

A portion of HUD's grant money has also been re-allocated to make major infrastructure improvements to the Sheepshead Bay Courts, a bungalow community in a private section of the neighborhood. It received $20 million for the project. 

Labor Costs

The Department of Sanitation, which was praised for its swift and relentless work as residents began cleaning up and gutting out their homes, received more than $173 million from FEMA. More than $121 million of that went to labor costs, which includes overtime for the hundreds of DSNY employees who worked after Sandy.

The NYPD received more than $174 million for labor costs, and the Fire Department was allocated $22 million for employees. The Department of Correction was given $3.3 million.

Other Funding

• In addition to the $174 million for labor costs, the NYPD received $94 million to repair flooded precincts and replace damaged squad cars and other vehicles. Part of the money also went toward repairing its 23rd Street warehouse, its bomb squad training facility, electrical work at these sites, and their still-shuttered Police Museum. 

• The Department of Correction was awarded more than $75 million to repair parts of Hart and Rikers islands.

• The Fire Department replaced flooded and destroyed trucks and other vehicles with more than $21 million from FEMA. 

 • The New York Aquarium was allocated more than $23 millions to fix its oceanfront site, which was wrecked during Sandy.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of homes Build It Back still has under construction. It is 918, not 5,000 (which was the total number of homes in the program.) It has also been updated to include details of the latest HUD money for NYCHA's work.