Natural disasters can devastate communities, wreaking havoc on housing, employment stability, transportation, and infrastructure. As we learned after Hurricane Katrina, these corollary effects are often exacerbated for low-income and minority families, due in part to the limited resources these households had before the disaster and the lack of organized networks to advocate on their behalf. Taking these lessons to heart, when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast on October 29, 2012 and caused extensive damage to New York and New Jersey, LDF immediately took an active role in ensuring that the recovery helped all those affected regardless of race or income. As part of this effort, LDF has been monitoring the City and State governments’ responses to the storm and their plans for low-income neighborhoods. LDF continues to push for greater consideration of and resources for disadvantaged communities. In particular, LDF strongly urges New York City and New York State to be more transparent about their recovery efforts as they relate to housing opportunities for low-income residents.
On January 29, 2013, Congress passed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, which included $16 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to distribute as Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to assist in the long-term disaster-recovery effort. Just over a month later, on March 5, 2013, HUD allocated the first round of CDBG-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds, giving the most to New Jersey ($1.83 billion), which sustained the brunt of the damage; $1.77 billion in to New York City; and $1.71 billion to New York State (excluding NYC). On November 18, 2013, HUD released the second tranche of CDBG-DR funds, in the amount of $1.46 billion to New Jersey, $1.45 billion to NYC, $2.1 billion to New York State. To obtain the CDBG-DR funds, jurisdictions were required to submit plans describing how they intend to use the funds to promote business and housing recovery, known as “Action Plans,” and certifying that they will comply with federal civil rights laws, including fair housing laws.
LDF joined other civil rights advocates in submitting comments on the New Jersey Action Plans and submitted its own comments on New York City’s and New York State’s initial CDBG-DR Action Plans, and on New York City’s Substantial Amendment 5, which describes the allocation of the second round of funding. As of January 2014, New York State had not yet published an Amendment addressing its second round of funding, but it is expected to do so soon. In its comment letters, LDF expressed concern that the City’s and State’s proposed plans fail to address the needs of low-income and minority populations, most specifically renters, in a region where there is a shortage of affordable housing even before the storm. Additionally, neither the City nor the State Plans included sufficient data or specific programs to support their claims that they would use the federal funds in a manner to affirmatively further fair housing.
LDF continues to monitor the New York City’s and New York State’s Sandy recovery efforts. As of January 31, 2014, more than 14 months after Sandy hit, NYC had not distributed any of its CDBG-DR funds designated for housing recovery programs. The State administered some housing funds in December 2013, though it is not clear whether those funds came from the CDBG-DR grant or elsewhere. Unfortunately, neither the City nor State has been very transparent during the recovery process; accordingly, in November 2013 LDF submitted Freedom of Information requests to the agencies handling post-Sandy recovery efforts seeking applicant data for the City’s and State’s housing recovery programs and information about the City’s and State’s assessments of unmet needs and outreach efforts. As of January 2014, LDF had received a limited response from the City and no responsive documents from the State.
To read more about LDF’s ongoing concerns with respect to Sandy recovery efforts, click here.