Over the past month, a group of people who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy have been waging a battle with the city. They came from the most traumatized areas, and from the poorest economic backgrounds. The city had given 3,132 evacuees temporary housing in hotels in the aftermath of the storm, but then suddenly delivered April, then May deadlines to make them leave–isolating 156 Sandy victims who had nowhere to go, and no housing program to help them get there.
On Wednesday, a state supreme court judge granted members of this group’s request for injunctive relief, allowing them time to stay in the hotels until the city helps them find permanent housing.
Leslie Brown, a plaintiff who had been living in housing paid for by the city, is finally moving into a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey. Brown, who suffers from PTSD and depression as a result of the brutal crime committed against her when the storm hit, still doesn’t have furniture or a refrigerator, but is relieved she has somewhere to live that isn’t a shelter. “I’ll find a way to get better because I won’t constantly be worried about being put out,” she said.
Judith Goldiner, Brown’s attorney at the Legal Aid Society, points out that of the $1.77 billion in federal funds the city received for Sandy rebuilding, $9 million will be going to rental assistance for these families. The city mismanaged the situation, she says, when it could have helped families move into permanent housing upfront knowing it would receive federal aid later. “”Where our clients lived–in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Staten Island–those are like the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. These are where the poorest people live,” she says.
“Long term, what we really need to do is replace the affordable housing we lost in the storm and make it safe and not subject to these storms,” Goldiner adds. “We need to rebuild, but rebuilding takes a long time. My clients don’t want to stay in these hotels–they want permanent housing. So let’s rev up the process,” she says.