Credit: MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS
A centerpiece of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's recovery plan for post-Sandy New York involves helping communities retreat from the shoreline. The governor got federal approval — and funding — for a state program to buy out ruined or damaged houses at their pre-Sandy value, the New York Times has reported. But so far, few homeowners seem interested ("Homeowners in Flood Zones Opt to Rebuild, Not Move," by Thomas Kaplan).
"The only place where more than just a small handful want to relocate is a couple of communities on Staten Island," Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said at a joint news conference with Governor Cuomo in late April. "Otherwise, just about everybody — you take Nassau, Suffolk, Queens — they all want to rebuild and come back, and I think that's great. That shows the spirit of New York."
"It's up to the homeowner, and the vast bulk of homeowners are deciding to stay right where they are and rebuild," said Cuomo.
Still, officials may ultimately spend as much as $400 million on buyouts. Administration sources told the Times that they anticipate 10% to 15% of the owners of 10,000 homes severely damaged or destroyed in the storm will take the buyout offer, which will include a bonus if the house is in a particularly high-risk area. "Buyout payments will be capped at $729,750 for single-family homes," writes the Times.
That's more than Staten Island homeowners will get. But they're motivated to accept the state's offer, reports the New York Daily News ("Staten Island homeowners offered buyouts to abandon homes hit by Sandy," Reuters). "If you stay, you're rolling the dice," said 63-year-old bridge repairman Joseph Szczesny, who lives in a small bungalow in the nearly emptied-out neighborhood of Oakwood Beach. "And I don't feel lucky." Szczesny and almost all his neighbors have asked to be bought out.
"The neighborhood now is a ghost town," reports Reuters. "At the desolate end of Kissam Avenue, at least a half-dozen homes have vanished, leaving only their foundations and a tire swing hanging from a big tree. Marie Ecker, 66, and retired, thought she would spend this spring watering flowers in front of the bungalow she called home for 40 years. But she doesn't live there anymore."
Sandy, Ecker says, "was just like the last straw that didn't even allow you to fool yourself into thinking it was OK to stay."