Long Island was struggling with a shortage of affordable housing before Hurricane Sandy damaged tens of thousands of structures one year ago. People displaced by the storm are still being helped, many living in hotels, motels or with friends or family. Jodi Lieberman, program director for disaster case management at Family Service League, said the year has seen its frustrations, but things seem headed toward a “new normal.” “Where families may have been displaced, they’re starting to get back into their homes,” Lieberman said. “There’s been a lot of release of funds from the federal government that have come down, which are enabling people to get back into their homes.” Meanwhile, legal aid providers said foreclosures are rising, as mortgage payments sometimes took a back seat to reconstruction costs and temporary rent expenses in Sandy’s wake. And many beset by the region’s chronic homelessness problem before the storm are still left to fend for themselves. The Nassau County Bar Association has found attendance holding steady, if not rising, at its twice-monthly, multi-lingual free clinics, which offer legal advice and referrals for still-struggling Sandy victims.
Gale Berg said foreclosures are now the “delayed reaction” from the storm. “Money that should have gone to pay their mortgage was going to pay rent when they weren’t getting answers from FEMA or money from FEMA, or when FEMA ran out or they were having problems with their insurance,” Berg said. Mike DeTrano, a recent graduate of TouroLawCenter, has spent much of the past year helping Sandy victims. He said last November and December, he heard complaints about landlords demanding one-year leases from people who expected to be back in their homes sooner. “And now, a lot of those same people are calling in, complaining the landlord doesn’t want to extend the lease for another year, because they’re still stuck and they haven’t been able to recover. Everybody was expecting things to move a lot faster than they were, and the homelessness issue to resolve a lot more quickly than it is,” DeTrano said. And in Long Beach, where homeless people often huddled under the boardwalk that Sandy demolished, community activist James Hodge said he hopes the storm delivered a message about New York’s “haves and have-nots.” “You know, when Sandy hit, a lot of people that had, found themselves on the same line with someone that they probably passed by every day and maybe dropped fifty cents in their cup,” Hodge said. Hodge added that the experience of Superstorm Sandy may shed more light on homelessness on Long Island and, in his words, “on a lot of different problems that Sandy helped bring people together to talk about.”