Nearly 60,000 public housing residents in 33 developments were affected by the superstorm in 2012. Three years later, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) received a $3.2 billion grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair buildings and make them more resilient to future catastrophes.
So far, the housing authority has spent $730 million of those funds, and has only completed one of 29 Sandy-related recovery projects. But their recovery and resiliency office has awarded $1.85 billion in contracts, including a $560 million project in Red Hook, the largest of the bunch.
This year, the agency is slated to spend $820 million, with another $850 million earmarked for 2019. NYCHA officials noted that the FEMA funding is released in phases, so the agency never has full possession of the $3.2 billion state-administered grant.
Construction for most of the remaining sites is expected to start this summer “at the latest,” according to NYCHA’s 2017 end-of-year report. Three projects are still in the design phase, and three are in the procurement phase.
About half of the projects is expected to be done by 2019, officials said. But some of the larger projects, such as the multi-phase Red Hook rebuild, will extend to 2021.
Joy Sinderbrand, vice president of recovery and resiliency for NYCHA, said $73 million alone has been used for eight buildings in Astoria Houses that were severely impacted by the storm. She visited the development last Wednesday to watch a generator be lifted to the roof of a building, one of the many changes made as part of the post-Sandy recovery.
“This work is bringing all of the critical systems for these buildings above flood elevations, so that in future emergencies, residents will be protected from storms,” she said.
Many buildings are receiving repairs or replacements to their apartments, lobbies, roofs and community centers. Meanwhile, NYCHA developments are also elevating their mechanical and electrical equipment, adding floodgates or barriers, installing power back-up generators and elevating boilers.
In light of climate change, storms like Sandy may strike New York City again. Sinderbrand said whenever there’s a sign of inclement weather, NYCHA works with their construction and property management teams to make sure sites are safe and secure.
In the meantime, they’re adding additional measures to ensure buildings won’t be as hard hit as when Sandy struck six years ago.
“We’re working to complete these projects as quickly as possible,” she said.
However, NYCHA residents today are facing a heating crisis. This winter alone, tens of thousands of public housing residents have been affected by boiler and heating system issues.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $200 million city investment to replace boilers and upgrade heating systems at 20 NYCHA developments. But the renovations will only be completed by 2022.
Claudia Coger, tenants association president at Astoria Houses, said many residents won’t even notice that a generator is being moved to the roof because of all of the other quality-of-life issues they face daily.
“When you have people who are cold and don’t have hot water on a daily basis for their personal use, that, to me, should be taken care of now and immediately,” she said.
In addition to heating issues, NYCHA developments citywide face a $17 billion capital needs gap. That means bathrooms, walls and other structural elements in public housing apartments need upgrades.
Coger called on NYCHA to send more inspectors to address ongoing issues for residents.
“We want a clean, safe, healthy place to live,” she said.
In response to calls for more funds to fix boilers, Sinderbrand acknowledged the need for investments. She said the 20 developments within the Sandy-related project portfolio are the “fortunate ones” because they know their funding is in place for heat and hot water replacements.
The others have “not necessarily had their commitments made,” she said.
“There is critical need across NYCHA for investment in the federal level,” she said. “This continued disinvestment puts our residents at risk.”