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Queens Chronicle: Sandy Town Hall Yields Some Recovery Answers

If the two previous town hall meetings in Howard Beach discussing the neighborhood’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy were any indication, many entered St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall on Sunday afternoon prepared for a showdown; a raucous meeting of angry, frustrated and confused homeowners loudly expressing their concerns and obstacles in the recovery from the community’s worst disaster, perhaps in it’s history.

But that’s not what happened Sunday. Whether it was the length of time since Sandy — almost eight months to the day — or the tone of the questions asked, the town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), featuring representatives of the Department of Financial Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, yielded answers to a number of questions. Those inquires, including “Do I have to raise my house?” and “Will Build It Back, the new city-sponsored recovery program, help pay for what insurance and FEMA didn’t?” were not answered with “I’ll get back to you,” but rather something substantive.

In a change from previous town halls, many of the residents’ questions were fielded privately after the meeting to allow for officials to clarify concerns from the past meetings.

On the flood map issue, FEMA was in the process of changing New York City’s flood zones when Sandy hit and the storm forced the agency to release preliminary maps as they continue to work on permanent ones.

According to their preliminary maps, most of Howard Beach moved from Zone X to the more at-risk Zone A. That left many residents confused as to what they needed to do to satisfy the new requirements.

Zone A residents are required to buy flood insurance and are advised to raise their homes so that the first floor is at the new flood levels, which in most of Howard Beach is either 10 or 11 feet above sea level. Most homes already in the neighborhood are not that high.

“If you are in Zone A, you do not have to raise your homes unless your home has been substantially damaged,” said Greg Coulson, a representative from FEMA who was present at the meeting. “That means if you live in a $500,000 home, you must have occurred $250,000 or more in damages in order for you to have to raise your home.”

“That’s all I wanted to know,” one woman shouted. “Thank you!”

Final maps that will set the zones in stone could be finished as early as next year. FEMA representatives at a previous town hall said the final maps will likely look similar to the preliminary ones.

Another man, who asked to have his name withheld, wanted to know if the city’s Build It Back program would cover appliances lost in the storm in a second kitchen in his home. He said FEMA told him they would only cover the appliances in one of the two kitchens damaged.

“The city’s Build It Back program is more flexible on what it covers than FEMA,” Jeffries explained, noting that FEMA money is allocated based on federal regulations, but the Build It Back program, which is paid for using funds from the $60 billion federal Sandy recovery bill, is allocated based on city guidelines.

“We don’t have the same living condition as the midwest or the south,” Jeffries said. “We live a different way.”

Residents can apply for the Build It Back program by calling 311 or registering at

Two representatives from the state Department of Financial Services were also present at the town hall and met with residents after the meeting privately to discuss insurance issues and make residents aware of their rights concerning insurance. A number of people in Howard Beach have complained of home insurance companies not writing checks or holding up payment.

In one case, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) said an insurance policy would not cover any damage done to a home of one of this constituents because the house suffered flood damage, which insurance companies are not liable for, and flood insurance would not cover any damage not caused by a flood.

“The insurance company would not write a check for roof damage caused by wind because the house was also flooded,” Goldfeder explained.