Stricken Neighborhoods–Case Studies

Click on a town’s name to explore…

Long Beach

Far Rockaway (along with Breezy Point and Broad Channel)

Bayville

Mastic Beach

Coney Island/Brighton Beach

Chart Comparing Damages


Long Beach

Total Population in 2015: 33470 (+1.4% from 2010)

Median Income 2015: $84,831

Long Beach, New York, is surrounded by water, a barrier island off the coast of Long Island.
Being enveloped by the sea made it more susceptible to damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, as did its recent history of resettlement. In the 1960-70’s, it fell on hard times, “with depressed real-estate values, low rent and high vacancy rate.”  As property values stayed low “an inordinately large low-income population was displaced to Long Beach. . . working poor, clients of social-welfare agencies or discharges from mental institutions” (Eaton, 1985). The boom of people moving to Long Beach put a strain on its economy. It drained police and fire department resources. Long Beach private developers chose not to invest further in low-income housing. Their decision was to sell, because it was a “less risk, more lucrative investment” (Eaton, 1985).  Moves to gentrify Long Beach starting in the late 1970 began to draw in condominiums and wealthier residents, many of them white, also controversial moves like the strategic placement of a new mall that helped sustain racial and economic segregation within the city (Newsday, 1987).  By the time of the storm, Long Beach Housing Authority had also come to operate 374 subsidized low-rent units within five development sites mostly in the central and northeast parts of the town, some as public housing and other as subsidized private units under “section 8.”

When Sandy struck,  Long Beach suffered the brunt of the storm, as much so any place on Long Island.  By one report the storm surge of 16.75 feet there was the highest recorded on the island (Herbert 2012).  Flooding here was most dramatic.  Over sixty percent of these damaged homes had flooded first floors, about three-quarters of these more than a foot–and one-sixth of these more than four feet.  Not surprisingly, then, a whopping 77% of Long Beach’s existing housing were damaged enough to apply for federal funds, far more than in our other case study towns.  Far Rockaway, by contrast, though the runner up, suffered damage in only 21% of its homes.  That huge an impact had ramifications for all Long Beach residents.

The damage caused by Sandy would cost billions in repair. As they struggled for funds to carry out all this work, families worried about continuing problems with water and sewer systems, also the fungus and mold that began growing in their still-damp homes.  Public housing, increasingly starved for government support, proved especially vulnerable.  Mike Cruz, a public housing authority executive, claimed that he had been working on getting what was owed by the federal government to make the necessary repairs. (Dowdy, 2016) Melissa Miller, a resident of the public complex Channel Park Homes, charged that her home, while disinfected after Sandy, had still not been repaired some four years out. James Hutchin moved from the complex, because of his health.  He began suffering from bronchitis and became convinced his health deterioration was due to his apartment not being properly renovated.  In 2016, the group Erase Racism conducted a survey of those in the public housing complex and reported that “Of the 66 residents surveyed, 92 percent said their floor tiles were not replaced, 82 percent said that their kitchen cabinets were not replaced and 79 percent said their appliances, consisting of a refrigerator and stove, were not replaced” (Dowdy, 2016).  Some people indicated racism in this neglect. Elaine Gross, leader of Erase Racism, was not surprised by these actions, and hoped publicizing the results would keep Sandy from becoming like a Katrina for African Americans. Meanwhile, other homeowners in Long Beach continued to beg for the state to buy their homes.  

Especially for the aftermath in the Long Beach Latino community, communication is key to getting the help you need. If some of Long Beach residents do not speak English they could be left out of evacuation plans. With “more than 8 percent of Long Beach residents have limited English proficiency, with a majority speaking Spanish” (Ashbury et al, 2015).  Long beach officials had taken the steps to communicate with their latino community. “The city’s LanguageLine can translate from English to whichever language is required. The city can also issue emergency notification alerts in Spanish” (Ashbury et al, 2015). One could only imagine how it must have felt, to have a language barrier at the time of an emergency.

Map of Storm Surge in Long Beach, from its New York Rising Reconstruction Plan (2014)


Far Rockaway (along with Breezy Point and Broad Channel)

Total Population in 2015: 118,917 (+3.4% from 2010)

Median Income 2015: $49,091

Far Rockaway lies on a ten-mile long peninsula jutting into the Atlantic ocean along the Southern edge of the borough of Queens. This coastal low-lying neighborhood, home to approximately 120,000 people, serves as a popular vacation spot for New York City dwellers on the Northern tip of Peninsula and is densely populated with city sponsored housing to the East. Far Rockaway was utterly decimated by Superstorm Sandy.

After World War II and with the establishment of a direct subway line in the mid 1950’s, middle-class families moved into western parts of the peninsula such as Breezy Point and in gated communities with brick houses and quaint town centers. Minorities moved into converted bungalows that became subsidized housing. In the 1960’s, dozens of public housing neighborhoods were built on the far Eastern edge of the peninsula in high density, cheaply and without any strict adherence to safety or health regulations. This installation of mass subsidized housing resulted in eastern Far Rockaways being one of the poorest areas of Queens while the western part stayed affluent and remained popular for summer tourism. The eastern side of Far Rockaway, left vulnerable as a result of its high density cheap and deteriorating infrastructure, was hit the hardest by the Superstorm (Schwartzfeld, 2008) (Mahler, 2012).

During the storm, as the Atlantic Ocean gushed into Jamaica Bay, it washed away miles of beaches and causing flooding in nearly all residential structures. Moreover, many waterfront homes and structures were completely destroyed as the Atlantic Ocean inundated the entire peninsula. Breezy Point, a neighborhood just to the west of Far Rockaway, lost 350 houses due to a fire that broke out during the storm.  According to a case study conducted three weeks after Sandy, the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that 30 to 50 percent of Far Rockaway residents were still without power and low income residents were much more susceptible to worrying about lack of food and shelter. (Subaiya, 2014)  According to this case study, the peninsula of Far Rockaway was clearly neglected as the majority of the relief efforts and supplies were centered around New York City.  According to a report published 17 months after the storm, residents of NYCHA public housing still had no running water, heat, or repair work done on their houses long after after the storm.  Similar to the impacts in Long Beach, Far Rockaway subsidized housing contained large amounts of fungus and mold before the storm that were made much worse after Sandy.  Moreover, most of the repair work done, was completed by volunteers as governmental agencies were nowhere to be found in the eastern Far Rockaway region.  As with other cases studies such as Long Beach and Mastic Beach, structures remained in need of repair year later as well (Smith, 2014)

Five years later, the affluent western parts of the Far Rockaways have undergone major upgrades and advancements. In May of 2017,the installation of a new and improved boardwalk was completed and 3.5 million cubic yards of sand has been added to the beaches. However, in the eastern part of the island, 30 subsidized housing developments are still waiting to be fixed and are not projected to be repaired until 2021, 9 years after the storm.  The Far Rockaways, especially the east side of the Peninsula, were so vulnerable to the effects of Sandy because so much of the infrastructure and population had been ignored for decades, making them easy targets for the Superstorm.

Map of Storm Surge in Far Rockaways and vicinity, from its New York Rising Reconstruction Plan (2014).


Bayville 

Total Population in 2015: 6724 (+0.6% from 2010)

Median Household Income: $101,221

The Village of Bayville, located in northern Nassau County, is situated between Oyster Bay and the Long Island Sound, a perfect destination for those who love beach scenery. Because of the Robert Moses’ bridge plan being defeated in the 1960s-70s, the waters have remained clear and unpolluted and the vista relatively untouched, which has drawn in more housing and other development (Bleyer, 1996).  Now the little island is home to most white and well-off Long Islanders, who enjoy owning their homes out on the water. However Bayville is also a low-lying community, subject to severe inland damages and inundation. Bayville had a good deal of experience with flooding prior to Sandy; Hurricane Irene had residents traveling in row boats, kayaks and surf boards. A small number of single-family homes were severely damaged by waves and wave run-up, destroying seawall (Wales, 2016).  The seawalls that were built were thought to be enough to prevent these kinds of damages. Despite Long Islanders being familiar with hurricanes and northeasters, Bayville was not prepared for such a storm as Sandy.

Most of the damaging effects happened along the coastline, and since schools had been along higher landscapes, they remained safe.  Closer to the water, it rose and rushed in to fill the streets and basements of residential homes, leaving the community to clean it up. The Long Island Sound surged into Oyster Bay, which then went into Mill Neck Creek and flooded neighborhoods along Shore Road. The overflow in Mill Neck Creek caused severe damage and flooded out homes and businesses within a several block span of the President’s Streets neighborhood and extending south to Bayville Avenue.   Superstorm Sandy’s flooding in the area resulted in a difficulty in accessing roads and some were considered impassable. Residents were forced to use buckets to get rid of the abundance of water in their homes and yards.  The impassable roads resulted in stalled vehicles which blocked access to emergency personnel and utility trucks. The Bayville Bridge was disabled, rendering its electrical equipment inoperable. As a result, the bridge was closed.

In the process, residential homes were severely damaged along with furniture and memorabilia (Bush, 2012).  From the middle of the island to the east, a total of 362 out of 487 houses were damaged (125 houses weren’t inspected).  As for buildings, 287 of the buildings owned by single families were damaged. It is important to note that 86% of homeowners with insurance had damaged homes while there was only 14% of damaged homes owned by not insured owners. This is probably because most houses by shore coastlines are sometimes required to have insurance. Most likely the 14% were more inland.  Overall, only 18% of Bayville’s homes were registered as damaged by the federal government, less than all our other case studies towns except Mastic Beach.   That destruction still affected a little village like Bayville deeply.   The Bayville Bridge, so vital to the town’s traffic, had to be restored, and was not reopened until April 17, 2013. With only one vehicle-friendly route, recovery in the village of Bayville was slowed and and the local economy suffered.  The town needed a reconstruction plan that focused on improving security of community operations, also a quicker recovery plan.  Using state funds, this relatively well-off town has been moving to develop better protections against further climate-related disruptions to come (NYRCR Bayville Planning Committee, 2014) (Bleyer, 2014).  

Map of Storm Surge in Bayville, from its New York Rising Reconstruction Plan (2014).


Mastic Beach

Total Population in 2015: 14,883 (+15% in 2010*)

Median Household Income: $62,602

Mastic Beach is situated on the south shore of Long Island on the southeast part of the town of Brookhaven. The area was formed in 1928 by the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association and is home to many marinas and docks since the location is a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean.  By the 1970s and 80s, it had gained a reputation for poverty–Newsday featured it in a series on this topic–and by the 1990s, despite some revival, was still known as “the poor man’s Westhampton Beach” (Schaer, 1993).  At the time of Hurricane Sandy it had just incorporated to form its own village and government, but the community dissolved its incorporation in 2016 and is now returning to unincorporated status. The population of Mastic Beach is predominantly white, over 65%, but blacks and especially Hispanics or Latinos make up over a quarter of the population, and its median income remains only 71% of the Long Island average.   Superstorm Sandy did as much damage as it did in Mastic Beach not just because its residents had fewer financial resources to cope, but because of where the town lies. The area is one of the lowest lying spots on Long Island and groundwater levels are also very close to the surface, adding to the dangers of a big storm surge. The high levels of groundwater also create another problem because of how septic tanks stand in the water, something they are not designed to be in (Long Island: It’s Imperative – Mastic Beach, n.d.).  Mastic Beach’s only source of protection from superstorm Sandy was Westhampton Beach as well as two more beaches on Fire Island. So when Sandy caused a breach in these three areas Mastic Beach was left defenseless (Mian, 2014).

The storm surge from the Superstorm tore through Fire Island to make Mastic the furthest town to the east to suffer a heavy burden of destruction (Spangler and Winslow, 2013). This was surprising to many, seeing as Fire Island has always protected them. Out of about 5,000 homes in Mastic, more than 1,000 were flooded, some with water that rose chest-high. The seawater that flooded homes caused wires to corrode thus creating fire hazards.  Many people had to go without power for days, even weeks, because if restored too quickly, fires might have broken out (Henn, 2012). Lastly, due to the widespread dependence of this town on septic tanks, sewage that had seeped to the surface was left behind as the water receded, along with other wastes such as oil. The Mayor of Mastic, Bill Biondi, declared Sandy the worst storm for his town since the hurricane of 1938. Of the 12% of the total houses damaged, 56% of first floors had 1 to 4 feet of flooding and out of the 12% damaged, 73% damaged were single family homes (Henn, 2012). A year after Sandy, 75 homes in Mastic were still deemed uninhabitable with only 12 having just been cleared at that time. What is surprising is that even a year after the storm residents of Mastic Beach were still waiting for the governor to release money to them (Mian, 2014). In 2015 the town of Brookhaven purchased seven severely damaged houses in Mastic Beach that will not be rebuilt, but instead used as buffers for future storms.  In this and other ways, Mastic Beach is seeking to prepare for other devastating storms that may come (Macgowan, 2015).

Map of Risk including Storm Surge in Mastic Beach, from its New York Rising Reconstruction Plan (2014).


Coney Island/Brighton Beach 

Total Population in 2015: 107,818 (-2.9% from 2010)

Median Household Income 2015: $32,144

Coney Island and Brighton Beach lie on the Coney Island peninsula along the southern shore of Brooklyn, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the New York City Harbor. While Coney Island is now connected to the body of Long Island, in the beginning of the 20th Century it used to be an island unto itself. The Coney Island Creek, which ran along the three mile northern coast of the then island, separated it from the rest of Brooklyn. With the construction of the Belt Parkway and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, half of the creek was filled in by landowners to make room for the new construction, transforming it into the peninsula it is today.  Despite its fame as a playground for New Yorkers, by the 1960s Coney Island was known for its “slums and tidy homes,” as well as “big-city problems” (Hoffman, 1967).  The resulting neglect and low property values drew the eye of New York City’s Housing Authority, and in the 1970s, high-rise public housing projects (Mahler, 2012) (Campbell, 1981).

Their presence helped sustain both its reputation and vulnerability, especially as federal funds for maintaining public housing dwindled.  While the area has seen several influxes of new residents, roughly half on the eve of Sandy were immigrants from Russia and the Ukraine (DiNapoli and Bleiwas 2011).  They did not bring much affluence with them.  By 2013, Coney Island ’s average salary was only $31,000, lowest of all our case study towns, and 1 in 4 residents were impoverished and unable to fix and repair their properties.  Hence, when the area was hit by Hurricane Sandy, recovering from the storm became extremely difficult (Weichselbaum 2013).  

When Sandy hit on October 29, 2012, Coney Island was overtaken by a 14 foot storm surge.  It “drove the waves of the Atlantic Ocean over the sands of Coney Island Beach, over the wooden planks of the boardwalk, through the rides, games and attractions of the amusement parks, and onto Surf Avenue.” As sea water rushed into the streets, it brought sand with it, pushing half a street past the boardwalk and half-burying stop signs.  For days, the majority of the area stayed without power, with the only lights to be seen the flood lights on the street corners and the red and blue lights of the emergency personnel roaming the streets. As cars driving the street sides became  waterlogged, owners wrote down insurance information on the backs of their cars and found other ways home.  Stores and restaurants were also damaged by the storm surge, among them Coney Island’s world famous “Nathan’s Hot Dog” restaurant (Dilawar 2012). Schools in the area such as Coney Island Prep and P.S. 288 were sent to schools like P.S. 375 in Crown Heights, which was further inland and had not been badly impacted by the storm. The amount of school closures severely crippled the Coney Island community, making a simple commute to school for many children, much harder ( Monahan, Chapman, Cunningham, and Dillon, 2012).

After Sandy as before, the Coney Island section of Brooklyn remained one of the poorest in New York City (Weichselbaum 2013).  More than a quarter of the residents in the Coney Island community said their homes were ruined by the storm, of which 70% are rentals. Owners of the amusement park rides on Coney Island such as the Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and many more spent around $5.5 million to repair the rides for the beach season in after the storm in 2013. The federal government spent more than $4.4 million to find temporary housing and repair homes that were worth salvaging after the storm. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, 1 in 7 Coney Islanders were unemployed, adding to the level of difficulty in regards to people having the funds to rebuild.  Despite all this damage and the financial shortcomings that made it so hard to repair, Coney Island has remained a popular beach destination for many Brooklynites and other city residents during the summer because of its beach front and the Coney Island amusement park (Weichselbaum 2013).

Map of Storm Surge in Coney Island and vicinity, from its New York Rising Reconstruction Plan (2014).


 

Comparing Damages across Towns

Based on housing in 2010 Census Groups registered with FEMA as having significant damage.  Source: FEMA

Total Damaged Damaged but no flooding Flooded basement up to 2 ft Flooded Basement more than 2 feet Flooded 1st floor up to 1 foot Flooded 1st floor 1-4 feet Flooded 1st floor more than 4 feet Damaged single family owned homes Damaged multifamily owned homes Damaged single family rentals Damaged multifamily rentals Uninsured owners with damage Insured owners with damage
Bayville Percentages 18% 4% 11% 44% 12% 25% 4% 80% 0% 19% 0% 14% 86%
Far Rockaway Percentages 21% 19% 9% 32% 10% 23% 8% 34% 1% 39% 26% 34% 66%
Long Beach Percentages 77% 2% 5% 32% 13% 37% 11% 51% 5% 36% 9% 21% 79%
Mastic Beach Percentages 12% 7% 4% 8% 20% 56% 5% 73% 0% 27% 0% 26% 74%
Coney Island/Sheepshead Bay Percentages 22% 6% 9% 43% 6% 24% 12% 48% 6% 24% 22% 69% 31%
Total Sandy Percentages 16% 7% 7% 22% 14% 39% 11% 66% 4% 21% 9% 40% 60%
Graphs of Flooding Data (2010 Census)