Staten Island Homes Finally Go Up, and Up for Auction, in Hurricane’s Wake


Photo

The havoc Hurricane Sandy wreaked on Staten Island homes is still apparent more than three years after the storm.

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Staten Island is not a borough known for its skyline, but along the eastern shore, a jagged silhouette now caps the horizon of New Dorp Beach: up, down, up, down, down, down, up — empty.

Wrapped in plastic or covered in beige or green siding, more than a dozen homes float above their neighbors, supported by thick metal I-beams and lattices of wood. Others stand behind green plywood fencing, with orange banners reading “Build It Back” flapping in the wind, as the houses wait their turn to be raised above the flood level. Many more simply wait, still underwater to a surging sea, their banks, or both.

In this community on New York Bay, city, state, federal and private programs have ground along for more than three years since Hurricane Sandy wreaked its devastation. St. Patrick’s Day decorations now hang on doors and windows, yet signs of upheaval remain everywhere. As progress is finally being made on many blocks, residents hope they can resume their lives, even if they cannot forget the waves that transformed them.

Photo

Debbie Ingenito lives in a house on Topping Street that she is unable to raise above the flood level.

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

“We want to get back to normal, though what is normal now?” said Debbie Ingenito, who lives with her sister in a two-family house on Topping Street they are unable to raise.

After initial discussions about retreating from the coast — including buying out much of the Graham Beach, Oakwood Beach and Ocean Breeze neighborhoods — officials determined it was better to restore communities like New Dorp, Dongan Hills, Midland Beach and South Beach. Not everyone wanted to go, or could afford to, and it was believed that they could survive the next storm with the right infrastructure. The city took up the task of either elevating homes or building new ones for residents, while the state bought those the owners could no longer sustain.

In October, on the third anniversary of the storm, City Hall set the end of 2016 as its deadline to complete work through the Build It Back program, which has been mired in setbacks and began elevation work in earnest only this past fall.

So far, 17 families in New Dorp Beach have sold their homes to the state. They moved up the street, upstate or down South, all to higher ground, though still feeling the pull of the tides. Their former homes still stand, however, and will be sold through an auction program to help restore the shore.

“We see a future that can be even better than the past, since a lot of the homes we have purchased used to flood even just during a heavy rain,” Rachel Wieder, director of buyout and acquisition programs for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, said during a tour of the neighborhood last week.

Photo

A house on Wiman Avenue, one of many damaged homes that will be auctioned in May.

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

On May 10, the first group of houses will go on the auction block. Residents and developers will be able to bid on 55 damaged Staten Island homes — along with six homes in Queens and one in Brooklyn — with the requirement they rebuild or replace them to modern standards. Many homes in the area are converted beach bungalows, some barely more than winterized.

The homes will be auctioned off with minimum bids. At 14 Seafoam Street in New Dorp Beach, where the walls have been replaced and repainted and cabinets just above the flood line still hang in the kitchen, the minimum is $70,625, though its appraised value before the storm would have been $175,000.

Four blocks over, at 40 Topping Street, the studs are still bare, the floor is a maze of plywood and an old chair is piled with unwanted paintings and a lonely wise man from a Nativity set. The minimum bid for the house is $121,611, since it is a wider Cape Cod.

“I couldn’t take worrying about the storms anymore,” said Denise Kelly, who sold 58 Center Place to the state after living there for 33 years. “Besides, I was getting too old to raise it and go up all those stairs.”

The state paid her $340,000 for the home and will auction it for at least $127,278. Ms. Kelly did not go far, putting the money toward a home in New Dorp Beach just west of Hylan Boulevard, the point at which the surge of water from Hurricane Sandy stopped.

Photo

Another property on Wiman Avenue to be auctioned.

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

The most expensive home set for auction in the borough, in nearby Great Kills, starts at $228,511. The cheapest is a $14,961 bungalow in Midland Beach.

Some neighbors expressed fears that multifamily properties or low-income housing would replace the old homes, but zoning and market forces would most likely curb any out-of-context construction. The state hopes the properties will remain affordable in this neighborhood of civil servants and construction workers. The new buyers have up to three years to finish their work.

“So many people moved out, and so many places are empty,” Marylou Barcia said. “We want our neighborhood back.” Ms. Barcia returned to her elevated home in January, one of the first in New Dorp Beach to be raised by Build It Back.

Dominick Camerada, who is waiting for the city to elevate his home of 24 years on Garibaldi Avenue, said, “For a lot of us, the recovery has been worse than the storm.”

Officials at Build It Back argue that considerable time was spent straightening out previous shortcomings after the de Blasio administration took over. Of the roughly 6,000 properties that need repairs or reconstruction citywide, 1,548 are finished and 1,011 have started construction. Meanwhile, 150 homes are in the process of being elevated, out of 1,900.

Photo

A house on Seafoam Street. Build It Back, a New York City program that helps raise damaged homes, began elevation work in earnest only in the fall.

Credit
Ángel Franco/The New York Times

“I think people need to step back and look at what we’re doing,” Amy Peterson, the director of the program, said. “People had their houses damaged in Sandy, and some in Irene, they’ve experienced issues with insurance and FEMA, and the city is stepping in where others would have just sent them a check.”

When it comes to who stayed and who left, circumstances, more than sentiment or strategic planning, played the biggest role. The home was paid off, or the mortgage would have consumed any settlement. The insurance came through. The bureaucracy wore them down.

Virginia Kemler had a finished basement with a family room, office and laundry room she would have had to give up if she elevated, cutting her home, at 18 Garibaldi Avenue, and its value in half. “What was legal then isn’t legal now,” she said, so she sold. Her bungalow, sitting on a valuable double-wide lot, will be auctioned for at least $129,644, the most expensive in New Dorp.

John Clacher, whose Neutral Avenue home was knocked off its foundations in the storm, has felt fortune and misfortune simultaneously. “My mom saved my house, because when she died, I came into some money, and I paid everything off,” Mr. Clacher said.

He spent his own money elevating the house in 2013, with the help of an Amish firm, and has been fighting with the city ever since to qualify for reimbursements.

“I don’t live in a neighborhood anymore,” he said. “I live in the ‘zone,’ and I don’t know how much longer I can call it home.”



Source link

About admin

Check Also

The Old School of the New Age

Quest is an esoteric bookshop specializing in everything metaphysical. The store is a remnant of ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *