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Sandy Victims Could Be Left Out In The Cold, Advocacy Groups Charge

By Erin Durkin
April 15, 2013

Many Sandy victim families will be left with no place to go when the city pulls the plug on its hotel program at the end of the month, advocates warn in a new report.

Some 592 families are still in hotels six months after the storm, according to the latest city data, and the city is trying to get them out and into other housing by the April 30 deadline officials have set to end the program.

Advocates are urging the city to scrap the deadline. “Many of the families…are threatened by homelessness by the imminent closure of hotel assistance and disaster evacuation centers,” the coalition of labor and housing groups, the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, wrote in a report to be released Monday.

And the group says the city has not done an official count of people still displaced by the storm – whether they’re staying in hotels, with family, or in temporary apartments – so there’s no way to get rental assistance to everyone who needs it. They charge the city has dramatically undercounted the number of low-income apartments knocked out of commission by the storm, leaving out thousands of unregistered units.

The city has made 500 NYCHA apartments and Section 8 vouchers available for families leaving hotels, and about 400 of them are still available for the remaining hotel residents.

City officials say the mismatch between the number of vouchers and number of families left in hotels is no cause for worry because some people have repaired homes they can return to or enough money to rent an apartment on their own.

“It’s been only a few weeks since we set the April 30 deadline and more than 300 households have left the program since then,” said Department of Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond, who predicted everyone would find housing. “We still have over two weeks left. We’re working hard every day.”

He said officials “certainly are prepared” if Sandy families end up showing up at homeless shelters but expect they can avoid that outcome.

Sharon Smith, 59, said she doesn’t know where she and her son and grandson will go if they’re forced to leave the Queens Sheraton where they’ve been staying at the end of the month. Their Far Rockaway home was wrecked by the flood, and she’s qualified for a Section 8 voucher but says she doesn’t have enough time to find a place and get all the required paperwork processed.

“Knowing that we can’t go back to where we were, they should give us time to find what we need to sustain ourselves,” she said.

The advocates are especially worried undocumented immigrants will end up with nowhere to go since it is hard for them to qualify for housing vouchers.

The Alliance also found in its report that a privately-funded mold cleanup program launched by the city will only reach a tiny percentage of homes infested with mold, and say renters will be left at the mercy of their landlords for repair work instead of getting direct aid. 
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