Recognizing the amount of work still to be done to make Sandy struck communities whole again, Margert Community Corporation has announced a new partnership with the American Red Cross and a new initiative to provide help. A recent release from the office of Margert Executive Director Joseph Barden noted that, “Hurricane Sandy is gone from the 24-hour news cycle, and the world may have passed us by, but the residents of the Rockaways, Broad Channel and Howard Beach continue to struggle with the aftermath of that brutal storm.”
Although it too was hammered by Sandy, Margert has continued bringing relief to families struggling to restore their lives. The organization announced that thanks to a generous grant from the American Red Cross, Margert is prepared to provide home repairs, rehabilitation gap grants, case management and housing counseling services to more than 700 Sandy-impacted households living in and around Community Board 14. Superstorm Sandy is the largest U.S. operation by the Red Cross in more than five years and Margert has been selected to project its presence, in a very meaningful way, throughout the Rockaways. “The nature and extent of the damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy was so unprecedented,” Barden says, “that we needed to create a new paradigm to assist the survivors. The American Red Cross grant will allow us to provide direct rehab assistance, disaster case management and comprehensive housing counseling.” Margert’s Red Cross Sandy initiative will help to restore and repair the homes of residents within Queens Community District 14 adversely affected by the storm and left without adequate resources to return their homes to habitability.
Services to these owner-occupied primary residences will include construction management, mold remediation, materials, skilled and licensed contractors, and other mitigation measures in the restoration/repair process. Other housing assistance will include mortgage foreclosure prevention counseling and a variety of services for tenants seeking to locate or maintain safe, decent and affordable housing. If a homeowner or tenant and their family have been adversely impacted by the hurricane and they have not received adequate relief from insurance proceeds and/or FEMA, they are asked to contact Margert Community Corporation right away! Certified Margert intake workers are standing by at 718-471-3724 or they can access Margert online at [email protected].
The United States needs to transform its housing assistance program to the European style known as Social Housing. Public housing has supplied poor and low-income families with economic stability since the 1930’s. Similarly, the Housing Development Act, often referred to as Section 8, has allowed millions of families to live above the poverty line over the years.Despite their past success, these housing programs have become ineffective. It is crucial that we consider going in a new direction in affordable housing.
To remedy the increase in housing costs, decrease in available housing units, and stigma surrounding public housing, we must fully establish and embrace social housing.
Social housing has proven to be successful in Europe, in England, Scotland, Denmark and Austria. Social housing is like public housing because it is financed by the government but it may be owned and managed either by the state or non-profit organizations. Social housing not only serves low-income households but also the middle class, which virtually would eliminate the majority of the socioeconomic issues that surround our current public housing.
There is a large percentage of hardworking Americans that struggle to break even, while their housing cost rise. Even though our economy depends on these wage earners, our society does not do enough to support these workers; we need to make sure that they have the comfort of living in decent affordable housing. It is a shame that a person working fulltime and making minimum wage cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
Rent increases affect lower-income households closer to the middle class. Families once able to live on their own without housing assistance are being forced out of their apartments. Some of these families now live in inadequate units not sufficient in size.
The rest have become part of the low-income category and have to rely on housing assistance to stay afloat.
Imagine a couple with three children living in New York City. They make a decent $45,000 a year (more than minimum wage) but their monthly rent that was already difficult to pay at $1,300 has now been raised to $1,700. Their rent is now $20,400 for the year, which is 45 percent of your family’s income. Not much financial flexibility to pay for food, health insurance, taxes, and utilities.
For years the number of individuals eligible for public housing has exceeded the number of available units. According to Robert Holly of CU-CitizenAcess.org, there are 10.1 million low-income households in America but only 3 million have affordable homes. Leaving 7.1 million families in the cold and many are forced to live in apartments that they simply cannot afford. They spend more than 50 percent of their earnings on their housing and as a result they are left in complete financial turmoil.
The new cuts known as “sequestration,” will force state and local housing agencies to cut 140,000 supported units by the beginning of 2014. Thousands of low-income families using Housing Choice Vouchers face a sharp rise in rent. To add insult to injury, many subsidized owners have not renewed their contracts and are changing their apartments into higher rent units.
Social housing caters to both lower income families and the middle class and this can alleviate the negative stigma attached to public housing since its inception.
This stigma is mostly attributed to the fact that the housing was poorly constructed in areas filled with poverty and crime. Thanks to the Margert Community Corporation, steps have been taken to correct this issue and companies have begun to develop affordable housing units in nice areas.
For instance, in Phase II of the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area Project 142 newly affordable housing units have been built along Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. The project comprises of about 82 single family and 30 two family houses. The homes are arranged in detached, semidetached and fully attached configurations.
If housing became nationally accepted by the middle class, there would be more and better areas that would host subsidized homes. This would help alleviate the stigma behind public housing and help increase the number of available housing units. As a result less families would be homeless, which would prove social housing to be much more efficient than our current housing programs.
The American Red Cross has awarded nearly $1 million in grants to Margert Community Corporation, Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund and Rockaway Youth Task Force to support long-term recovery services for people affected by Superstorm Sandy in Queens.
Margert Community Corporation will receive a $700,000 grant, and will use the funding to provide home repairs for 105 households which were affected by Sandy; another 600 households will receive housing counseling. “Margert was approaching its own ‘fiscal cliff’ on September 30th with the expiration of state and foundation funded Sandy recovery programs,” said Joseph G. Barden, executive director, Margert Community Corporation. “This grant from the Red Cross has allowed us to continue to provide direct emergency long-term recovery and resiliency housing rehabilitation - especially health and safety measures such as mold remediation - to assist homeowners with individual gap grant awards, and assist displaced tenants and special needs households.”
In addition to Margert Community Corporation, the Red Cross has awarded $178,808 grant to the Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund. The group will use the funding to provide home repair for 26 Sandy affected households in Breezy Point. “The grant we are receiving from the Red Cross will be used to complete repairs for many of our most vulnerable residents and will hasten their return,” said Steve Greenberg, chairman of the board, Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund. Additionally, the Rockaway Youth Taskforce will receive a $50,000 grant, and will use the funds to train 50 peer leaders and mobilize 500 volunteers to help repair Sandy-affected homes in the Rockaways. The group will do so by organizing 24 volunteer rebuild days over the course of a year. The organization will also receive 100 Red Cross “Go Bags,” emergency kits that will be distributed as part of its preparedness training presentations throughout the Rockaway Peninsula over the coming year.
“The Rockaway Youth Task Force is excited to partner with the Red Cross in the rebuilding of the Rockaway Peninsula,” said Milan Taylor, president, Rockaway Youth Task Force. “The youth are a very vulnerable population and it’s imperative that they’re included in the strengthening of our community throughout the rebuilding process.”
Josh Lockwood, CEO, and Red Cross Greater New York Region, said: “I am proud that generous donations to the Red Cross for Sandy enable us to support the work of Margert Community Corporation, Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund and Rockaway Youth Task Force to help Sandy survivors in Queens recover and rebuild.” Local elected officials were also pleased about the three community-based organizations’ collaboration with the Red Cross.
According to the Red Cross, additional community grants will be announced in the weeks ahead.
Two conferences in Far Rockaway marked the first anniversary of Sandy one year to the date on October 29th. At the Church of the Nazarene was the all-day Far Rockaway/NY Rising Conference. It was followed in the evening with Councilman Donovan Richards’ ‘Sandy: One Year Later’ panel discussion at the Far Rockaway Library. Both events drew an array of representatives from city, state and volunteer organizations.
It was the panel discussion that drew a large crowd of residents from throughout the peninsula, many still suffering from the effects of Sandy. Highlighted at the event were some of Rockaway’s local organizations still working to help disaster victims. Margert Community Corporation has been serving Rockaway since 1980. It is a not-for-profit community based housing organization with financial support from NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
It was one of the first on the ground after Sandy, helping people assess damages and working with those affected by Sandy to help them get the help they needed. One year after the storm Joe Barden, Margert’s executive director, is still urging people to “come to Margert for emergency assessment work as soon as possible.”
The Jewish Community Council is a one-stop place to get help with everything from disaster case management to food stamps. Ocean Bay Community Corporation on Beach 54th Street and Beach Channel Drive is another place to turn to for help.
Among others attending the conferences were Senator James Sanders, Jr.; Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, Josh Lockwood of the Red Cross, Kevin Alexander of RDRC, and Manhattan Borough President and city comptroller-elect Scott Stringer.
Affordable housing has made a return to Rockaway in a big way. Last week it was announced that the Sand Castle Apartments in Far Rockaway have returned to the city’s affordable housing program known as Mitchell-Lama after leaving it in 2006. “Today with the announcement of this building opting back into the Mitchell Lama program 916 units of affordable housing now has come back to 711 Seagirt Boulevard,” said Councilman Donovan Richards.
Joe Barden, the Executive Director of Margert Community Corporation, explained the meaning of affordable housing. “Defined by HUD, affordable housing is housing that costs no more than 30 percent of your gross monthly income,” said Barden. He added that in New York, it is almost impossible to find such housing that is “safe, decent and affordable.”
Barden also said that his organization stands ready to help in repairs, energy efficiency and tenant screening.
Richards said he would be sitting down with the owner to discuss various issues, including giving preference to those who were displaced from peninsula as a result of Sandy. “This will certainly aid, especially for those who lost so much during Sandy,” said Richards. “I believe that people want to come back. The city was looking for affordable housing for a long time, now it is here.”
The changes are welcome to those living in the building who say things have gone downhill since owners left the Mitchell-Lama program. “It was nice. You could leave the doors open,” said one tenant who preferred to not give their name.
Another said, “We don’t have enough security. They used to make rounds, now they don’t.” “The precinct used to have a van here all day,” said a tenant. The Wave was told of people being robbed, tenants afraid to go up in the elevator and pit bulls with no muzzles. The Wave has reported some of the problems that occurred at the apartment complex in the past few years including police responding to shots fired in November 2010, a stabbing and possible attempted robbery in Feb 2011.
Built in the 1970’s as part of the Mitchell-Lama program, it was originally known as Roy Reuther Houses. In 2006, they opted out of the program when the mortgage was paid off with a plan to go to general renters rather than just seniors. In 2007, it was sold again, renamed The Sand Castle and the decision was made to go to market rate. Apartments for those who lived in the Sand Castle, when it opted out of the program, remained affordable housing. The apartments, for all those who came in after, were rented at market rate, which Richards said at this time is approximately $1,300 a month.
According to Department of Finance records, it is now owned by Seagirt Equities LLC, which has made the decision to return to affordable housing. All those living in the building will be screened to see if they are eligible for affordable housing.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Margert Community Corporation hosted a free clinic last weekend to provide help to those who were affected by superstorm Sandy. Organizations that sent representatives to the Far Rockaway Sandy Relief: Free Clinic on January 19th included FEMA, the Small Business Administration, and the city’s Department of Health, which answered questions about mold mitigation.
There was also legal assistance from the New York City Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society, as well as home owner’s and renter’s assistance. “We partnered with Margert because we wanted to (provide) access to all in a stress free and easy environment,” said Shira Gans, the program and relationship director for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Javier Silva, also of the Federal Reserve, added that the “benefit of this is if someone goes to speak with the SBA and they are told they need to go see FEMA and come back, or that they need an attorney, the benefit is it’s all provided under one roof.” Representatives from the American Group Psychotherapy Association were available to help with the stress and the feelings of being overwhelmed that have affected those who went through the storm.
It is not only the adults who have to cope, Dr. Madelyn Miller said, but “children are often… dealing with [these] issues and need extra help and support.” The clinic started at 11 a.m. and within two hours 200 people had come through the doors of the Peninsula Preparatory School at St. Mary’s in Far Rockaway.
According to Joseph Barden, the executive director for Margert, approximately 50 percent headed to Margert counselors. “Their primary concern is guidance and assistance in navigating the maze of government assistance that is available,” said Barden. “It’s very difficult.” He added that Margert’s counselors “lead them through the maze.”
As a Rockaway organization, Margert has been on the ground providing emergency flood repairs to homeowners since Sandy hit the Peninsula. Barden’s advice now is for residents not to miss the January 28th deadline to file for FEMA assistance. “I strongly encourage people to meet the deadline,” said Barden. “They extended it once or twice already. I wouldn’t count on them extending it again.” The Far Rockaway clinic was just one in a series the Federal Reserve of New York will be holding.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced assistance for low-income New Yorkers whose health issues pose a medical emergency during the extended period of hot weather forecasted for the state in the coming days. “The late spring and early summer have already brought several heat waves, which can be life-and-death matters for New Yorkers with serious medical conditions,” Cuomo said. “Senior citizens and children are especially susceptible to heat-related illness, and this initiative will provide low-income homes with much-needed air conditioners so that New Yorkers have the assistance they need to stay cool and healthy.”
In order to protect vulnerable New Yorkers, New York State has set aside $3 million in funding through the federallyfunded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Summer heat can be dangerous for many New Yorkers,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. “I strongly urge eligible families and seniors to take advantage of this program to help keep their homes safe and comfortable. As this heat wave moves across New York, it’s absolutely essential that seniors aren’t put at risk because they can’t afford to keep their homes cool.”
“Working with our non-profit partners across the state, we are happy to provide some relief to those needy New Yorkers with medical conditions,” said Darryl C. Towns, Commissioner/CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which administers LIHEAP. “But if you find yourself without air conditioning and in a true heat emergency this summer, please do not wait: head to your nearest local cooling center.”
Eligibility for the program is determined by:
HEAP low-income guidelines. (For a four-person household, the maximum gross annual income to qualify is approximately $49,500.)
Having at least one household member who has been diagnosed with a chronic or acute medical condition which is aggravated by exposure to extreme heat situations.
A doctor providing written documentation (dated within the last six months) that air-conditioning assistance is critical to prevent a heat emergency.
Households that have a working air conditioner or have received one from the State in the last 10 years are not eligible.
The cooling program is administered by HCR with funding provided from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funds, through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). HCR’s network of 63 local Weatherization agencies will provide delivery and installation of cooling program services, and funds have been allocated to ensure coverage in each of the state’s 62 counties.
These agencies will accept applications, determine eligibility, and oversee the installation of the air-conditioning units. Under the terms of the grant, one air conditioner will be awarded to an eligible household or dwelling unit, with installation and labor included. Grants do not include an additional HEAP cash benefit to cover the cost of operating the air conditioning unit. Rockaway residents can call the Margert Community Corporation at 718-471-3724 for more information.