Two Years After Sandy
October 29, 2014, marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, and the beginning of a third winter of hardship for thousands of New York families. Some are still displaced; others can only inhabit a portion of their homes while they wait for repairs to be completed. For many more, the rebuilding process has stalled (or not yet even begun), because they are still battling with government agencies and private insurance companies, and struggling through a confusing and slow-moving maze of recovery programs.
“Over the last two years NYLAG has provided free civil legal services to nearly 8,800 households, benefitting more than 27,000 New Yorkers affected by the storm. We have obtained more than $60 million in monetary benefits and savings for storm victims, a 15:1 return on investment. And yet, the problems for Sandy victims are still there. Our attorneys see more than 50 new clients every week who thought they could handle things on their own, and now find that they need help, while existing clients continue to face new and daunting challenges, and need ongoing support to deal with increasingly complex and entangled legal matters,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge.
Go in-depth: A special 2-year report on NYLAG’s impact
Throughout 2014, NYLAG’s storm-related case load has remained steady with approximately 1,000 cases open at any given time. But the legal matters are more demanding and time-consuming than ever. Clients served by NYLAG’s Storm Response Unit now require extensive assistance, with cases open for an average of 99 days—or approximately three months—before full resolution is achieved.
A growing number of people are being sent “recoupment” letters from FEMA demanding that they give back some or all of the government aid they received after the storm. The number of recoupment letters received by NYLAG clients has more than doubled in the last six weeks, a number that is expected to grow.
With the arrival of the 24-month post-storm deadlines for flood and homeowners insurance filings, NYLAG attorneys have now shifted their focus to assisting clients who must litigate their claims.
Landlord/tenant issues are still prevalent as insurance disputes and delays in the rollout of recovery programs hamper landlords’ abilities to make repairs. Eviction actions have spiked as many tenants who never fully recovered financially from the storm find themselves trapped in unaffordable housing. Foreclosures are also increasing now that mortgage forbearance periods have ended and homeowners, their savings depleted, are unable to afford to pay enormous lump sum back payments. And there has been a new flood of contractor fraud complaints from homeowners who have received insurance or recovery funds and are proceeding with repair work.
Thanks to the generous support of its funders, the vision of its Board and the dedication of its management team and staff, NYLAG has the experience and infrastructure in place to help clients overcome these and other hurdles. Over the course of the last two years, NYLAG has learned how to think long-term, and how to be flexible. With 35 full-time staff working in the Storm Response Unit, the agency continues to address emerging issues, master new areas of law, and help those victims who are most marginalized and difficult to reach.
The agency has fine-tuned an approach to delivering services that combines community-based intakes, coordinated assistance from NYLAG attorneys trained in all disaster-related areas, extensive pro bono support, and financial counseling to help those affected by the storm achieve lasting economic stability.
Few predicted that, two years later, so many New Yorkers would continue to suffer in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. As their third winter begins, NYLAG remains committed to helping them navigate the recovery process, receive the fair outcomes they deserve, and finally rebuild their lives.