Superstorm SandyTen Years Later: A Retrospective
Letter from Governor Hochul
Ten years ago, Superstorm Sandy hit New York’s shores and upended the lives of countless New Yorkers. Businesses were ruined. Homes were destroyed. Dozens of lives were tragically lost. The impact of the storm will continue to be felt in our state for years to come.
But just as soon as Sandy hit, brave first-responders rushed into action and New York accelerated a comprehensive recovery plan to rebuild our state.
Just months after the storm, the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery was created to lead the state’s relief effort and help families and communities rebuild. And over the past ten years, we have leveraged an unprecedented $4 billion in federal funding to build back smarter and stronger. We helped over 11,000 households repair or elevate their homes. We collected local community input to build neighborhood plans that prioritized long-term resiliency within neighborhood facilities, schools, shelters, and key infrastructure. We helped rehabilitate more than 1,000 small businesses.
We’ve accomplished so much to date, but there is still more work to do.
Experts warn that storms like Sandy can happen with greater frequency or severity due to climate change. As hurricane seasons grow more intense, and extreme heat affects more New Yorkers, we need to adapt to our changing climate.
All across our state, we’re applying lessons we’ve learned during Sandy to our programs and projects. We’re working directly with homeowners, tenants, and community groups to make sure there is safe and dignified housing available to New Yorkers at every income level. And we’re making strategic investments in disadvantaged communities that have too often experienced inequitable outcomes after disasters.
Working with communities, agency partners, and local, state, and federal officials, we’re building a better, stronger, more resilient New York — together.
– Governor Kathy Hochul
Letter from Executive Director Katie Brennan
As we commemorate the tenth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, as well as the eleventh anniversary of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, GOSR recognizes the immense toll that the storms left in their wake.
Hundreds of lives lost. Tens of thousands of homes in need of repair. Billions of dollars in damages.
GOSR was created in response to the storms with a mission to help lead New York’s recovery and build resilient communities so that we are better prepared next time, prioritizing environmental justice.
To the credit of the entire GOSR team, we are already making great strides toward this mission. We’ve helped tens of thousands of New Yorkers rebuild or move out of harm’s way.
And while our work to help recover from Sandy, Irene, and Lee continues, that was just the beginning. We are now taking on new challenges including a pilot program to tackle the longstanding wastewater infrastructure crisis in Mount Vernon.
These types of new programs are becoming more and more important as climate change continues to wreak havoc across the globe.
We know we’ll need resilient infrastructure because we’re continuing to see more storms and more rain. This was illustrated last year, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit our state, bringing historic downpours of rain, resulting in deaths across our communities.
Clearly, our work is not over.
GOSR is proud to have Governor Hochul as our leader as she recognizes the importance of adapting to our changing climate. She is making our mission a priority by creating a permanent statewide recovery and resiliency unit that will be tasked with meeting the short- and long-term challenges of all emergencies including major storms and extreme heat.
Along with our partners at the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, we are ready to continue to advance our mission, take on new challenges, and create safe and resilient communities for all New Yorkers.
– Katie Brennan, Executive Director, GOSR
GOSR was established in June 2013 to coordinate recovery efforts for Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. Most recently, we are also coordinating recovery and resiliency efforts for Hurricane Ida.
We invest $4.5 billion in Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding to better prepare New York for extreme weather events and other emergencies.
Our Housing program, now complete, helped keep New Yorkers out of harm’s way. Over 11,000 households participated in the program. We helped repair damage to single and multi-family homes while also making resiliency enhancements, such as 3,400 home elevations, to ensure that homes could withstand future storms. We helped completely reconstruct thousands of homes, including 1,700 affordable rental units. We also conducted buyouts in areas where repairing or elevating homes would not have adequately protected folks. Several neighborhoods opted to participate in the program.
Our Small Business Recovery program, now complete, provided grants and loans to over 1,000 small business owners for rehabilitation, replacement, and mitigation needs.
Our Rebuild By Design program includes two innovative projects – Living Breakwaters and Living With The Bay. These groundbreaking and creative projects, which amount to $230 million in investments in innovative resiliency and recovery projects, combine physical, ecological, and social resiliency measures along New York’s shoreline.
Our Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure programs help make improvements to community facilities including shelters, schools, community centers, libraries, and vital roadways. The program works with municipal, county, and non-profit partners to implement locally-devised, community-driven projects that will help New Yorkers respond to future storms. Out of 271 Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure projects, 185 are complete and 80 are in construction.
We are also leveraging Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds to implement resiliency initiatives including our Mount Vernon Healthy Homes pilot program to repair homes impacted by the city’s sewer crisis.
Results by Region
Housing Program Participants on Long Island
Home Elevations on Long Island
Feet Elevated on Long Island
Invested in Home Repairs on Long Island
Affordable Housing Units Built on Long Island
Invested in Affordable Housing on Long Island
Long Islanders along the North and South Shores have had to deal with flooding and water issues for decades. That includes everything from unelevated houses that were built within a floodplain, major thoroughfares that are blocked by water on a regular basis, or concerns about wastewater infrastructure. Irene and Sandy only exacerbated these issues as communities flooded and homes and vital emergency routes were left under water.
GOSR stepped in to help residents recover while also adapting to our new climate reality of more extreme weather through our now-complete Housing Program. Participants, 93% of whom are located on Long Island, received funds to repair their homes and make unprecedented investments in resiliency measures. The optional elevation initiative, announced in 2014, drastically expanded the eligibility for this critical resiliency measure and doubled the number of structures lifted out of the flood zone. To date, we invested over $1.2 billion in repairing over 10,00 impacted homes on Long Island. Homeowners chose to either elevate their homes or perform structural, mechanical, and/or plumbing repairs to substantially increase the likelihood that they can withstand future emergencies.
Our Public Housing Program helped create new affordable units to help ensure more Long Islanders have safe and resilient living spaces. We awarded $14.5 million towards the completion of the Moxey Rigby affordable housing site in Freeport, a completely newly reconstructed 100-unit resilient development. We are also investing $33.3 million in flood protection, storm mitigation measures, and other resiliency improvements for Channel Park Homes in Long Beach, Mill River Gardens in Oceanside, and Inwood Gardens in the Five Towns.
Our Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure programs are investing $49 million on Long Island on projects including resiliency enhancements and flood mitigation.
Resiliency measures included backup power enhancements, road raising, and stormwater collection and diversion systems. GOSR installed emergency power hook-ups at traffic signals across the South Shore of Nassau County. We elevated and strengthened a key access and evacuation route for Oakdale and West Sayville in Suffolk County. We upgraded wastewater treatment plants in East Rockaway and Robert Moses State Park to improve water quality and power resiliency. We implemented emergency response upgrades in Fire Island. We’re working with the Village of Island Park to improve street infrastructure across its downtown area.
Invested in Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure on Long Island
Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure Projects on Long Island
Road Raising Projects on Long Island
Backup Power Projects on Long Island
Stormwater Infrastructure Projects on Long Island
Spotlight on Suffolk Sewers
GOSR prides itself on the partnerships we build across state agencies, including our work with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the NYS Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Suffolk County, and many others.
One example of these partnerships is the Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative to enhance wastewater and stormwater resiliency. GOSR’s Infrastructure program is investing over $65 million in the initiative, which is connecting homes to newly constructed sewer systems and building a new wastewater treatment facility. It will strengthen resiliency by protecting communities from flooding and rising groundwater, reducing nitrogen pollution, and rebuilding natural coastal barriers like wetlands. Transitioning away from antiquated cesspools and septic tanks will also help strengthen the ecosystems that naturally protect the South Shore against storm surge.
Hudson Valley and the Catskills
Invested in Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure Projects in Hudson Valley and the Catskills
Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure projects
Water Infrastructure Upgrades
Emergency Preparedness Upgrades
GOSR invested nearly $25 million to help community facilities rebuild across Westchester and the Hudson Valley as part of its $56 million Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure projects in the region, as well as $25.2 million to help rebuild and repair homes in the region.
Our Community Reconstruction program enhanced resiliency and reduced flood risk through power upgrades, water infrastructure improvements, and strengthening emergency preparedness. GOSR made drainage improvements and waterway rehabilitation upgrades in Yonkers, Ellenville, and Margaretville. We built a new emergency shelter in Ellenville and opened resilient emergency response centers in Wallkill, Rosendale, and other areas.
Cranford Drive Drainage Project, Clarkstown, NY
Invested in CR & I Projects Upstate
CR & I Projects Upstate
Water Infrastructure Upgrades Upstate
Emergency Preparedness Upgrades Upstate
Upstate counties across the Capital Region, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, and Central New York experienced significant flooding during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. GOSR invested nearly $49 million to help communities rebuild sustainably. Our Community Reconstruction program helped reconstruct emergency response facilities and implemented stream restoration and flood mitigation. We improved drainage and implemented waterway rehabilitation measures in Binghamton, Jay, Vestal, and Gulf Brook. We built a new fire house and community shelter in Waterford. We opened resilient emergency response centers in Blooming Grove, Owego, Wallkill, Rosendale, and other areas.
Spotlight on Managed Retreat
Invested in Buyouts Program Statewide
Properties Purchased Statewide
Acres Transformed into Natural Areas/Open Space
Acres of Land Turned into Municipal Watershed
Managed retreat — or withdrawing from areas that are vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather — has gained momentum since Superstorm Sandy. While it is not the solution for every community, managed retreat remains a valuable option for neighborhoods that can no longer tolerate the substantial toll of repeated flooding, rapid erosion and other consequences of frequently occurring storms. At the same time, the approach draws into focus the need for resiliency techniques that work with our built environment instead of against it.
GOSR puts this theory into practice— balancing a mixture of green and grey strategies, and reacting to recent storms, while preparing for those that have not yet occurred. Striking this balance requires thinking carefully about coastal infrastructure, and acknowledging that some areas were never meant for human occupancy in the first place.
GOSR created the Buyout Program in 2013 as an alternative to repair and reconstruction projects. The program aimed to transform the State’s coastal landscape, returning formerly built-up areas to nature, while providing New Yorkers with an avenue for relocating to higher and safer ground.
Now complete, the program operated in Staten Island, the South Shore of Long Island, and the Hudson Valley. Although none of these communities are exactly alike, all have endured repeated flooding, and the anguish of continually having lives and property at significant risk.
GOSR invested $276 million across the state to purchase 721 properties and return them to nature. These properties were transformed into open space including a municipal watershed, land for the U.S. Army Corps South Shore of Staten Island Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, a soccer field, yard expansion for neighbors, and other natural areas.
Buyouts allow the vacant properties to serve as a natural coastal buffer that will protect surrounding communities in perpetuity. Natural areas help adapt to the effects of climate change by absorbing stormwater and reducing flooding. They also help reduce carbon from the atmosphere, decreasing pollution and improving air quality.
This effort complements the State’s goals to adapt to the effects of climate change and enhance resiliency as the frequency of extreme weather events increases.
The buyouts have reshaped the waterfront and nature has made its dramatic return. On Staten Island in particular, the vacant land has become populated by deer, turkeys and other animals. At the same time, a specially designed mix of seed has been spread across the empty parcels — transforming hollow lots into colorful meadows of shrubs, flowers and native plants that are enthusiastically colonized by bees and butterflies.
Strategic retreat programs must be tailored to the ecological backdrops to which they pertain, as well as to the communities they serve. They also must be used in concert with other resiliency strategies, allowing local and State governments to layer and combine techniques as needed.
Invested in Buyouts on Staten Island
Properties Participated in Buyout Program on Staten Island
Acres of New Open Space
Invested in Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure in NYC
Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure Projects in NYC
Community Centers Repaired in NYC
Coastal Protection Projects in NYC
Energy / Power Upgrade Projects in NYC
Green Infrastructure Projects in NYC
New York is a city surrounded by water, so it’s no surprise that residents experienced flooding and water-logged streets even before Sandy made landfall. The superstorm highlighted these issues.
In some cases, repairing homes would not have kept families out of harm’s way. In neighborhoods like Oakwood Beach, Graham Beach, and Ocean Breeze, homes were built around wetlands a century ago and have been susceptible to flooding for decades.
Oakwood Beach, in particular, was initially developed as a vacation community in the 1920s and transformed into a year-round community after World War II, when beach bungalows were winterized to accommodate returning soldiers looking for housing.
Even before Sandy, Oakwood Beach residents experienced severe flooding in connection with multiple Nor-Easters. They were no strangers to the idea of a government-led buyout and residents eagerly advocated for one.
That’s why GOSR opened a Buyouts program on Staten Island. The Buyouts program invested $203 million in Staten Island to purchase 504 homes from individuals and keep them as permanent open space. The voluntary program helped homeowners who wished to relocate and not rebuild, while investing into the state’s sustainability and resiliency.
GOSR also invested $58 million in strengthening neighborhood facilities as part of our $243 million Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure projects in NYC.
Our resiliency and flood mitigation measures included green infrastructure, coastal protection upgrades, and sustainable energy upgrades. GOSR installed bioswales and rain gardens across Jamaica Bay neighborhoods in South Queens and South Brooklyn. We installed emergency generators, check valves, and other resiliency upgrades in community centers. We installed tide gates and stormwater management systems in Canarsie. And we’re making resilient renewable energy upgrades in libraries and other community facilities across NYC.
Work in Progress
Community Reconstruction & Infrastructure
Neighborhood facilities, infrastructure, and roads are some of our community’s most vital assets. Our Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure Programs take on a variety of initiatives that safeguard these vital assets.
The projects improve resiliency, protect critical infrastructure, mitigate the risks of loss and damage associated with future disasters, and reduce hardship. We work with many municipal, county, and non-profit partners to bring hundreds of locally devised proposals to fruition.
The projects were designed through a bottom-up grassroots planning process that engaged local stakeholders to improve resiliency, protect critical infrastructure, and mitigate loss and damage from future disasters.
The programs are now in the implementation stage. Out of 271 Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure projects, 185 are complete and 80 are in construction.
Our resilient renewable energy initiative is installing solar and battery power at libraries and volunteer first responder stations in NYC. We implemented resiliency and preparedness upgrades at emergency and community centers in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Our waterway rehabilitation projects across the North Country ensure that Upstate communities can better withstand future storms. The drainage improvements that we are implementing on Long Island help alleviate the burdens on local stormwater infrastructure systems.
Statewide Community Reconstruction Project Sites
Public Housing Relief and Resilience
Invested in Public Housing Improvements Statewide
New Units Built
Our Public Housing relief and resiliency programs are focused on making storm-related repairs and enhancing resiliency at coastal public housing developments to help reduce exposure to future emergencies. The programs provide funding to improve existing public housing sites and construct new housing as well.
It was created out of HUD’s National Disaster Resilience competition, which funds projects that promote risk assessment, encourage planning, and improve resiliency to help communities be better prepared for extreme weather events.
GOSR’s partners include the Public Housing Authorities in Binghamton, Freeport, Long Beach, and the Town of Hempstead. These public housing developments experienced extensive damage during Irene and Sandy including flooding, power outages, and loss of habitability.
The programs included the construction of a brand-new resilient housing development, Moxey Rigby, in Freeport. The entire site was elevated above the floodplain. Resiliency measures included elevating mechanical equipment on the fifth floor, seven inches of insulation to preserve climate in the event of power outage, advanced water filtration and storage to stop water from pooling in minor rain events, installation of a backup generator, backflow valves to stop water from infiltrating the building, emergency cell phone charging stations, backup LED lights to guide residents during power outages, custom emergency preparedness plans, and state-of-the-art heating/cooling systems and ventilation.
Resiliency improvements are also being implemented at Binghamton Housing Authority’s North Shore Towers, including a new resilient roof, dry and wet floodproofing, elevating mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment, and a new rain garden.
At Long Beach Housing Authority’s Channel Park Homes, improvements include new roofing, a flood barrier, new exterior siding, and air conditioning.
Upgrades at the Town of Hempstead Housing Authority’s sites at Inwood Gardens and Mill River Gardens are also underway including a new community center, bulkhead reconstruction and resilient landscaping, floodproofing, hardening mechanical and electrical systems, and rain gardens.
Statewide Affordable Housing Interactive Map
Statewide Affordable Housing Interactive Map
Rebuild By Design
Living With The Bay and Living Breakwaters
GOSR is implementing two projects as part of HUD’s Rebuild By Design competition winners – Living Breakwaters and Living With The Bay.
The Rebuild By Design was a competition for innovative projects that create blueprints for recovery and resiliency efforts.
Living With The Bay is a creative $125 million project that is making living in the Mill River Basin safer. We’re creating flood defenses, restoring wetlands and waterways, improving access and egress, and instituting urban design features that can save lives.
The project will improve stormwater management, provide connectivity among diverse populations, enhance safety, and promote environmental education. Restoring wetlands helps absorb stormwater runoff and filter nitrogen out of the waterway, which improves water quality and enhances marine habitat.
The components include drainage, water mitigation, resiliency and ecological improvements at Hempstead Lake State Park in the Town of Hempstead; Smith Pond and Lister Park in the Village of Rockville Centre; East Rockaway High School in the Village of East Rockaway; East, West, and North Boulevards in Bay Park; and the Long Beach Water Pollution Control Plant in the City of Long Beach.
The project also includes a new Greenway from Hempstead Lake State Park to Bay Park.
GOSR also built an Education and Resiliency Center in Hempstead Lake State Park. The 8,000-sq foot facility offers hands-on learning about storm resiliency and sustainability to build the environmental leaders of tomorrow. It also provides space for community outreach and serves as an emergency coordination center during disaster response.
Hands-on social resiliency education, and the educational center in particular, is a major part of our work along the Mill River Watershed because an educated public can serve as a first line of defense in the fight against climate change.
As one of Living with the Bay’s goals is to combat historical environmental injustices and segregation, the Center was built to include systematically underserved communities such as Lakeview and the Village of Hempstead.
Living Breakwaters is a groundbreaking $107 million project comprised of a combination of resiliency measures, restoration, and educational programming across Staten Island and Raritan Bay. It includes innovative blue-green infrastructure designed to reduce flood risk to the shoreline, enhance the waterway’s ecosystem, and build the next generation of leaders on resiliency and climate adaptation.
The breakwaters, eight partially submerged enhanced stone and eco-concrete structures, will reduce storm waves, combat erosion, and widen the beach.
Using extensive hydrodynamic wave modeling, the breakwaters were designed to reduce the strength of waves reaching the coast and capture sediment flowing to the shore, preventing erosion and allowing the beach to build back naturally over time.
They are being constructed with “reef ridges”—rocky protrusions on the ocean-facing sides of the breakwaters—and “reef streets”—the narrow spaces between the reef ridges. These features provide habitat opportunities for a diversity of marine life.
Shoreline restoration will include a one-time sand replenishment from Manhattan Street to Loretto Street, an area especially prone to erosion and where public and private assets are vulnerable.
Invested in Rebuild By Design Projects
Linear Feet of Breakwaters in Raritan Bay
Acres of Natural Area Restored Along Mill River
Living Breakwaters Gallery
When Hurricane Ida struck New York on September 1, 2021, the storm caused $7.5 billion in damages and killed 17 New Yorkers. FEMA identified flood damage to 11,000 homes.
The State, including the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), Office of New Americans (ONA) and other agencies, quickly jumped into action to provide immediate response on the ground. Following a HUD Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery allocation of $41.2 billion for New York State, GOSR started working on an Action Plan to implement programs for long-term recovery and strengthen the resiliency of communities in future storm events.
GOSR conducted months of outreach to local officials, community leaders, non-profits, public housing authorities, and other government agencies. We determined that housing recovery represented the largest unmet need in the communities impacted by Ida. Using a Social Vulnerability Index, we found that the communities that sustained the most damage were those that could least afford to recover and had historically been underprioritized during disaster recovery in the past, such as individuals with limited English proficiency and low-to moderate-income residents.
Earlier this summer, we released our proposed Action Plan that supports initiatives to help residents recover from the storm and adapt to the effects of climate change while prioritizing historically underserved communities. Grant funding will be available to a variety of long-term recovery and resiliency programs targeting renters, homeowners, and owners and operators of affordable housing with a focus on low- to moderate-income residents.
The Action Plan includes programs that will encourage renters to relocate from storm-damaged homes while remaining in their existing communities, conduct storm damage repairs to homes, invest in flood mitigation measures and resiliency improvements in multi-family public and affordable housing complexes, and support local governments to help make resiliency improvements or create emergency plans.
GOSR has recently been leveraging new sources of funding including HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus funds. We are leveraging the funding to conduct a pilot program to assist residents impacted by the sewer and water infrastructure crisis in Mount Vernon.
The $3 million housing remediation and resiliency program called Mount Vernon Healthy Homes will mitigate environmental hazards and make resiliency upgrades to private property.
The program complements New York State’s historic $150 million investment to address Mount Vernon’s decaying water infrastructure that Governor Kathy Hochul, Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard and Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced earlier this year.
The Healthy Homes program is targeted to the most frequently impacted and high-risk properties. Participating homes may be eligible for repair to wastewater or flood damage, installation of sewage backflow prevention measures, mitigation of lead infiltration to water within homes, and other needed environmental remediation.
GOSR is holding information sessions and case management appointments in Mount Vernon to answer questions and help residents apply for the program.
GOSR has years of experience planning and executing federally-funded programs that required both immediate and long-term disaster recovery and resiliency strategies. There are some best practices to be learned from our experiences.
GOSR learned that timely, tailored assistance would minimize displacement among applicants as well as tenants living in rentals. It also helped to managed expectations by creating conversations around construction progress, hang-ups, and how to address those issues.
Creating a community-driven process
GOSR’s projects came to fruition as part of a grass-roots, community-driven process that engaged local municipalities, elected officials, residents, and other stakeholders. Local governments are oftentimes focused on providing critical day-to-day services and may not have the capacity to learn about resiliency or applying it within their community.
Towns and villages benefit from GOSR’s project managers making connections, helping to identify resiliency projects, assisting with funding applications, developing scopes of work and executing projects.
Partnerships and Coordination
GOSR learned that collaborating with other state agencies as well as local partners can ensure the most impactful projects are completed efficiently and can also help lead to access to a variety of funding streams and new audiences.
GOSR has taken projects where the state intended to contribute tens of millions of dollars and replaced those state dollars with federal resources. For example, we worked with partners to leverage HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus funding to start a pilot program that is helping to address the longstanding sewer crisis in Mount Vernon.
Combined with all previous best practices learned, we can demonstrate New York as a leader in disaster recovery while also seeking to learn, evolve, and improve our programs to aid residents.
Core to GOSR’s mission of building resilient and equitable communities throughout New York is ensuring that no one is left behind.
While low- to moderate-income renters were historically underprioritized during disaster recovery in the past, we at GOSR are prioritizing these communities in our plans and programs.
New York is learning from its past mistakes.
For example, our Mount Vernon Healthy Homes pilot program is targeted to the most frequently impacted properties that have been affected by the city’s water infrastructure crisis due to decades of disinvestment.
Our Action Plan for recovery from Hurricane Ida used a Social Vulnerability Index to identify vulnerable populations to help us prioritize programs in communities that would struggle most to recover and would benefit most. A focus was also placed in the Ida Action Plan on the renters in low- and moderate-income areas to ensure our unmet needs analysis prioritized this vulnerable population across the state.
GOSR looks forward to working to achieve this goal.