MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new program today, it's called NYC Rapid Repair, and it's for people whose houses were damaged by Sandy. The program will be paid for by FEMA and, according to the mayor, will cut through bureaucracy and get contractors to damaged homes starting next week.
As NPR's Margot Adler reports, FEMA has already put more than 30,000 New York and New Jersey residents in hotels and motels and the agency has given out roughly $300 million in rental assistance.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, stood with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie five days ago and said the government was looking at every housing option.
SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: We don't even know yet which of the houses are reparable and which are irreparable losses, as well as finding temporary housing for individuals who can't move back to their home right away.
ADLER: Those assessments are still going on. At least 7,000 people are still in shelters in New York and New Jersey. In New York City yesterday, the Brooklyn Armory in Park Slope was providing shelter for about 300 elderly people, many with medical problems, lying or sitting on cots or in wheelchairs row after row. Rosalie Juarbe from Far Rockaway was smoking outside.
ROSALIE JUARBE: It was like four buses.
ADLER: How long do you plan to stay?
JUARBE: Oh, I don't know. First they say one day, and then it keeps on like that day after day.
ADLER: As of today some 400,000 people are still in the dark. One of those people is Linda O'Conner. Three power poles near her house in West Milford, New Jersey, snapped. No heat, no electricity and since her water is from a well that is pumped with electricity, no water.
LINDA O'CONNER: We have been cramped up in a little teeny tiny hotel room, we're stressed out, everybody is fighting with each other, we're tripping over our things.
ADLER: Her daughter managed to make it to school once it opened, the two dogs are in kennels, the cats are in the house basement being fed every day. The family has spent $2,000 on lodging already, but they're not in a FEMA disaster county, so no help there. Every day she looks at the power company website, watching the number of homes without power go down and down.
O'CONNER: You see all your friends and neighbors and family getting their power back and you just feel so just left behind.
ADLER: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 40,000 people might need housing assistance. Half of them are in public housing. Each day more of those buildings are functioning. But as of yesterday, there were 120 buildings without heat or hot water and 72 still without power. FEMA's administrator, Craig Fugate, told reporters they were using satellite imagery to see how many homes were impacted by flooding. Trouble is...
CRAIG FUGATE: That number won't necessarily tell us how many people have long-term housing needs.
ADLER: Most of the FEMA assistance money is going for renter's assistance.
FUGATE: It's faster, it pumps more money in the economy.
ADLER: So far, some $300 million dollars. FEMA has said 101,000 people are eligible for temporary housing at hotels and 56,000 people are eligible for help with rentals or repairs. FEMA is also beginning to move some mobile homes into hard hit areas. These are not trailers like the ones used in Katrina. Those led to class action suits when some were found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde.
FUGATE: We have moved to HUD-approved manufactured housing and we look at specifically those that are designed for a colder climate northeast, where you do have severe winters.
ADLER: And New York's Mayor Bloomberg announced that Airbnb, an online site that lets people rent their apartments, will let people use the website to donate free temporary housing for the displaced. According to Airbnb, almost 600 people have already opened their homes. Bloomberg says some people whose houses have been inundated don't want to leave.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: This is everything they worked for all of their lives and this is where they want to be.
ADLER: Jobs, school, fear of looters figure into this calculation, so the city is trying to provide them with security, warm blankets and other assistance as officials all over the region explore multiple options. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.