Hotel Assistance Running Out For Some Sandy Victims
Correction April 29, 2013
A previous headline incorrectly said that FEMA-subsidized housing will soon be ending. It is actually assistance from New York City that is ending. Additionally, an earlier version of the story reported that the New York City Department of Homeless Services extended hotel stays for all residents displaced by Sandy. In fact, only residents who were already approved for public housing or subsidies were permitted to stay an extra month.
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Let's catch up now with one of the lingering hardships of Hurricane Sandy. Last fall, Sandy smashed into New York and New Jersey, and this spring, six months later, thousands of families in the region are still not back in permanent housing.
In New York City, hundreds of families are sleeping in hotel rooms. Many of them lost hard-to-come-by affordable rentals destroyed in the storm.
As NPR's Joel Rose reports, some complain they've been overlooked in the recovery effort.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Most of the guests at the Paramount Hotel in Midtown Manhattan are business travelers or tourists here to catch a Broadway show. Then there are the Scudders.
BRETT SCUDDER: It's not that we want to be here. But it's hard - the alternatives are not really there. So what do you do? You're caught between a rock and a hard place.
ROSE: Brett Scudder has been staying here for the last two months, along with his wife and four children, in two hotel rooms paid for by the city. It's at least an hour from their old neighborhood in the Rockaways. And their rooms, while decorated nicely enough, lack some of the comforts of home. Like a kitchen.
SCUDDER: Here in hotels, there is no way for you to provide for the children. So it's been a nightmare taking out, eating out, and just especially being in one of the most expensive areas of the city. It's been hard.
ROSE: This is the fourth place the Scudder family has stayed since the storm. Scudder, who runs a small non-profit organization, says living in the hotel has been bad for his children's health. It's also been bad for his marriage, which is falling apart. Scudder says the family would like to move out, but that's easier said than done.
Like the Scudders, many of the families displaced by Sandy were living in relatively cheap rental apartments in places like the Rockaways and Coney Island.
BRAD LANDER: Even if you're willing to move, it's not like you can just pick up and find something at that rent or at that price.
ROSE: New York City Councilman Brad Lander says many of these people were already struggling to make ends meet before the storm.
LANDER: We often talk about a set of working people who are one crisis away from homelessness - a lost job or a health insurance bill that they weren't expecting means even though you were getting by, something happens and now you're homeless. And for so many of these people, that's the case.
ROSE: New York officials say there are nearly 500 families still living in hotel rooms paid for by the city. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is picking up hotel bills for another 250 in New York. And no one can say exactly how many Sandy victims have squeezed in with family or friends.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Today we are here to say no.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No. No. No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We want an extension.
ROSE: Demonstrators gathered on the steps of New York City Hall last Friday. They were urging the city to allow New Yorkers displaced by Sandy to stay in hotel rooms beyond the end of April. The city did agree to extend hotel stays through May. But only for some of those residents.
Seth Diamond, New York's commissioner for homeless services, told a city council committee that residents who've already been approved for public housing or subsidies can stay in their hotel rooms for another month.
SETH DIAMOND: We're working very aggressively with all of them. So yes, we are very confident that based on the work we've done, and the agency's commitment to moving them in, that we'll be able to make the May date.
ROSE: The administration's critics welcome the partial extension. But with the vacancy rate for New York City apartments below two percent, they're also skeptical that there's enough affordable housing for everyone who needs it. Cherell Manuel has been trying to find an apartment for herself and two kids.
CHERELL MANUEL: All we want is the city to help us, you know. We want them to stop feeling like we're sitting in the hotel relaxing, like this is a vacation. This is not a vacation to me.
ROSE: Soon it may be check-out time for Cherell Manuel and hundreds of other hotel guests. And advocates worry that for some, the homeless shelter could be the next stop.
Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.