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Know Your Rights
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Renters on Staten Island share their hurricane horror stories

Hurricane Sandy exacted a fearsome toll on the borough’s homeowners. But it also dealt a body blow to an oft-neglected subset of the population: Renters.

Many contend with a dearth of resources, jobs, affordable housing or governmental assistance, typically compounded by their status as immigrants. Some have been forced to tiny, overcrowded apartments or rooms with jacked-up rents that they struggle to pay.

These were the painful realities shared by several speakers during a Wednesday meeting at the Midland Beach office of Make the Road New York; the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding was co-sponsor.

Sixty-one people turned out to hear the harrowing accounts.

Marisol Cruz said she and her family were happy living in South Beach near the water. After Hurricane Sandy hit, they lost everything and were forced to pay the same rent to live in a much smaller apartment. They struggled to get help — including from FEMA; the experience left her sad and depressed.

“Many people lost their jobs and couldn’t come back to where they were,” she said. “They need help with rent. We need to demand and fight for that — for housing with dignity, and that is affordable for us.”

Wanda Torres of Midland Beach said she did everything right: She paid her taxes, had a nice place to live and made close to $70,000 a year. After Sandy, “life changed completely,” she said. She spent six weeks with no water, heat or electricity. She lost her job; meanwhile her rent went up to $1,800 a month. She said she and her neighbors suffered greatly and some were even forced to turn to “other means to survive.” She, too, said she experienced depression, anxiety and despair, but she has not abandoned hope.

I want my life returned to like it was before Sandy, even better,” she said.

Melissa McCrumb, Make the Road’s Sandy Response Coordinator, noted that the majority of these renters tend to be low-income people of color. “They are being left out in the cold,” she said.

Ms. McCrumb said the group plans to host events so renters get their voices heard. They also plan to make recommendations to the city that include increased funding for housing vouchers with the Temporary Disaster Assistance Program, and that all immigrants — regardless of their status — have access to those funds. Also, that housing be made affordable and replaced so renters can return to their home neighborhoods.

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