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May. 9, 2013

Special Report: How Hurricane Sandy Continues to Affect Multifamily

In photo: Slatkin, Manning, Sokolow, Jung and panel moderator Rick Gropper of L+M Development Partners

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor

New York—It’s been seven months since Hurricane Sandy hit, and New York and the surrounding areas are still recovering. And not only has the hurricane had an impact on current buildings, but future developments will also be affected by the reverberations of the damages. At the New York State Association for Affordable Housing’s (NYSAFAH) 14th Annual New York State Affordable Housing Conference, in the session “Hurricane Sandy: What Have We Learned,” speakers Bomee Jung from Enterprise, Donald Manning from JASA, Howard Slatkin from the New York City Department of Planning, Ruthanne Visnauskas from NYC HPD and Arden Sokolow from the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, discussed the effect of the storm and what developers in flood zones should plan for in the future.

During Sandy, community residents and staff members came together to ensure everyone’s safety.

“Many of the folks responding to Sandy went to heroic lengths,” Jung said.

Manning, who works at seniors housing communities, applauded his staff for helping evacuate the buildings and getting the residents their medicine. He said that everyone stepped up and came together.

“You don’t call them tenants, you call them residents,” Manning said. “And during the storm, the residents became family.”

Now in the repairing stage, developers are looking at how the storm affected buildings, with some interesting discoveries.

“Older buildings fared much worse than newer buildings,” Sokolow said. “[And] taller buildings suffered primarily systems damage, not structural damage.”

Additionally, Sokolow said that one-story buildings “proved particularly vulnerable.”

Because of their proximity to water, affordable housing buildings were hit especially hard. For example, a lot of affordable buildings near Rockaway Beach in New York were destroyed by Sandy.

“There was an enormous number of Mitchell-Lama buildings impacted,” Visnauskas said.

Visnauskas added that these majorly damaged buildings would be receiving money. “The money is both for repair and resiliency,” she said.

Going forward, developers are going to have new building codes to follow so that if and when another hurricane occurs, there hopefully will not be as much destruction.

According to Slatkin, there will be new flood zones in areas where flooding and wave action is expected. Additionally, he said that new buildings in these flood zones, as well as current buildings that are being rebuilt, will have to be designed differently.

“In areas of great flooding designations, there can be no solid enclosure below flood level,” Slatkin said. “Most new buildings will not have basements or cellars.”

In addition to different building codes, Sandy has made developers look at hurricanes in a new light.

“For us, Sandy was a wake-up call,” Jung said. “Climate change is real. And we’re starting to see issues of climate adaptation. We don’t know how the climate will be different as times goes on, but we know it will be different.”

Because of this, Jung said that developers should be looking at current buildings, even those unaffected by the storm, and retrofit them to include new weather precautions. Additionally, she suggested preparing community staffs for future emergencies.

“You can’t be everywhere and do everything in a crisis, so you need to plan and prioritize,” Jung said. “Prepare your staff and residents so they recognize that they’re going to be the first responders.”

In the mean time, many communities are just trying to regain a sense of normalcy.

“There is still some physical damage and emotional pain, but we’re on our way to healing,” Manning said.

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