After the Storm Superstorm Sandy Update

 Fires devastated Breezy Point; areas of Staten Island were destroyed with lives  lost; thousands of residents in Lower Manhattan were plunged into darkness after an  electrical transformer exploded on the East River. These events were among the  horrific results of Superstorm Sandy, an event that continues to haunt  countless New York residents nearly eight months after the storm surge.  

 “As with most victims, they feel relief is slow and not enough,” says Greg Carlson, executive director of the Federation of New York Housing  Cooperatives & Condominiums (FNYHC). “The process is so slow that many without the means feel helpless.”  

 The superstorm is being blamed for roughly $70 billion in damage and other  losses, the vast majority of which was in New Jersey and New York. Hitting two  days shy of Halloween, Sandy is the second-costliest storm in U.S. history  after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans.  

 “As we all have seen, certain areas of New York City were hit harder by Sandy  than others, and some residents have been disappointed by the slow political  machines that determined various recovery activities,” says Michael Berenson, president of Manhattan-based AKAM Living Services. “AKAM cannot speak to the political issues that have arisen in Sandy’s wake, nor to the overall mood in the city, but we can however address the  responses we have gotten from the properties under our management that were  impacted, which have been overwhelmingly positive.”  

 Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” And while no person, state or entity wants to endure a storm the magnitude of  Sandy, prior weather-related crises served as an education. Elected officials  are learning as they move forward, including New York State Governor Andrew  Cuomo, who many months after the storm has pledged that rebuilding efforts will  continue.  

 “I directed state agencies, including Division of Homeland Security and Emergency  Services and the Department of Environmental Conservation to work with their  federal and local counterparts to make beach and coastal restoration a priority  in our effort to protect and secure our vulnerable coastline and nearby  residential neighborhoods,” Governor Cuomo said in early March. “Recovering from Sandy, rebuilding our communities, protecting our citizens and  strengthening our natural coastal barriers have to be done intelligently and in  a coordinated fashion. This work also has to be done as quickly as possible,  ensuring that we rebuild smarter and stronger.”  

 Are HOAs Adrift?

 Immediate impacts of the storm were far reaching with many communities  experiencing power loss for weeks and public services such as the MTA and PATH  services frozen. As days turned into weeks and then months, crews worked round  the clock to repair the unprecedented damage. During this scramble, many  affected residents were confused as to what they were entitled to from the  government as well from respective insurance agencies.  

 “The CNYC is working through the National Association of Housing Cooperatives to  change the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regards  cooperatives and condominiums,” says Mary Ann Rothman, the executive director of the Council of New York  Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC). “We believe that we should be eligible for FEMA grants to rebuild building-wide  systems or clear debris from areas such as lawns and campuses. FEMA presently  considers us to be business enterprises and therefore not eligible for grants;  however, individuals still qualify for FEMA grants to repair the insides of  their units.”  

 Carlson further explains that cooperatives, condominiums and HOAs are not  recognized by FEMA as having common home ownership elements. Having them viewed  as business entities, ineligible for FEMA relief, building administrators and  managers are being directed to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for  loans.  

 “The National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) have partnered up with  the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and the Community  Associations Institute (CAI) to urge FEMA that they have misinterpreted the  Sanford Act and that these co-op, condos and HOAs are in fact homeowners,” says Carlson. “In addition, this group has been pursuing legislation correcting this  misinterpretation. Senator [Charles] Schumer has asked HUD to deliver block  grants to the affected areas.”  

 Throughout the rebuilding efforts, politicians have been both praised and  scorned for their respective efforts. Schumer has stepped up to the plate to  assist storm-damaged co-ops and condos so that homeowners can receive a portion  of the estimated $60 billion Sandy relief package. The U.S. Department of  Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had allotted $1.77 billion of the federal  aid to New York City, which is charged with dispersing the funds.  

 In mid-February, the senator sent a letter to HUD urging the agency to create  programs to help co-ops and condos. “Condos and co-ops should be eligible for the same assistance as single-family  homes, and to say one can receive aid while the other can’t makes no sense,” Schumer wrote. “The federal government should allow some of the funds from the Sandy aid bill to  right this wrong.”  

 The monies could aid properties such as the Dayton Beach Park co-op located in  the Rockaways. After the storm, the approximate 1,150-unit complex was flooded  losing its boilers, water pumps, hot water heaters and laundry room. The  neighboring Glen Oaks Village co-op, which has roughly 3,000 units, realized  $300,000 in damages.  

 “In multi-family residences, hundreds upon hundreds of people were affected when  the buildings in which they lived became perilous or uninhabitable owing to  flooding and/or lost power. The danger was enhanced in multi-family buildings  because most have all or most of their mechanical systems below grade whereas  basement components may not be in evidence in single-family homes,” says AKAM’s Doug Weinstein, director of operations and compliance for the Manhattan-based  property management company. “The management of a multi-family high-rise is certainly a larger and more  complex project in a storm such as Sandy. All logistics are multiplied manifold  because of the number of people involved, and all must be addressed in real  time, from communicating with as many residents as possible, to ensuring the  availability of water to assisting with evacuation and return.”  

 Government Oversight

 With New Jersey being hit as hard as New York, governors crossed party lines and  worked in a concerted effort to ensure relief was realized. New Jersey Governor  Chris Christie even put politics aside and acknowledged the support of the  Federal government.  

 It is in the same spirit that residents and businesses banded together in an  effort to rebuild and move forward despite considerable odds. “An AKAM-managed property in the Financial District was among the first, if not  the first, of the heavily-impacted buildings in that neighborhood to be made  habitable again after evacuation,” says Berenson.  

 While the sense of community is strong throughout New York, rebuilding efforts  for many, including HOAs, have hit snags-from insurance claims to the ability  to rebuild whether or not funds are in place. Carlson encourages New York  residents to reach out to their congressional representative for assistance. “We can’t do it alone and we need you to help us urge your members of congress to  contact FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to urge them to allow our  housing cooperatives to be included in all the relief provided to other  homeowners,” he notes.  

 This is not only a point of contention for HOA advocates; it has caused gridlock  and frustration. “All we’re able to do is ask, and to amass support for our request,” says Rothman. “We have no ability to dictate any kind of date to FEMA.” To this end, FEMA has not yet released information related to these request.  

 What About Next Time?

 Referring back to the wisdom of Oscar Wilde, there is a silver lining to  Superstorm Sandy in that lessons were learned and new policies are in place to  better prepare residents, utility companies, businesses and organizations.  

 “In the wake of Sandy, we are already seeing changes in the industries that serve  our managed properties. For example, building codes are being strengthened and  insurance is going to be tailored to address unique flooding and other  circumstances,” says Weinstein. “We also will be seeing changes in where buildings are placing or replacing their  mechanical components so that they are no longer as vulnerable as they were  when in basements that good flooded. Many buildings are also purchasing and storing inventories of emergency supplies  like flashlights and water and are looking into the advisability and cost  variables for purchasing and installing emergency generators.”  

 AKAM advocates that all buildings provide detailed storm protocol instructions  to every superintendent, board member, owner and resident. “From our perspective, the best thing a board can do is make sure that the  building is being served by a management company that takes a proactive  approach to emergency response, that doesn’t close down when a few clouds appear in the sky and that makes sure that the  building returns to normal as quickly as possible in the aftermath,” says Weinstein.  

 As New York welcomes spring, many residents are still trying to rebuild their  respective lives. It remains a long, arduous road. While there are many success  stories, there are also those left disappointed and shattered. “At this point, condo and HOA residents are left on their own,” says Carlson. “If they are in a governmental program, there is some relief by government.”   

 W.B. King is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.  

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