When strolling down the narrow dead-end block of 164th Road in Hamilton Beach, it doesn’t immediately dawn on you that this street — so narrow that cars are only allowed to parallel park on one side of the street and on the other side, telephone poles sit in the asphalt a few inches from the sidewalk — was under 10 feet of water 14 months ago.
The homes along 164th Road don’t look damaged from the outside. Some residents even put up Christmas decorations. But inside many of the homes here, the destruction from Sandy is still apparent.
Jean Ferrara-Rodriquez, 52, is one of those Hamilton Beach residents still struggling to rebuild after Sandy. From the outside, her home at 102-01 164 Rd. looks normal. On the inside, however, it’s far from normal. She has no floors, except for new tiles in the kitchen, which has no appliances.
The only sign of the season is a small Christmas tree sitting on a paint-splattered step stool near the stairs. Ferrara-Rodriquez calls it her “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” and explains she only put it up for her teenage daughter, Jean Marie. Her walls are still bare, plaster marks the spots where the Sheetrock was nailed in. Her life is lived out of boxes scattered all over the rooms, packed with photos and paperwork that she has collected to help her stalled recovery. She and her daughter eat nonperishable food, which she stores in a closet near the front door and on a folding table in the middle of what was a living room.
“Welcome to my palace,” Ferrara-Rodriquez said, exhausted.
When Hurricane Sandy bore down on Queens last October, Ferrera-Rodriquez and her daughter evacuated. Hamilton Beach — a low-lying section of Howard Beach wedged between Hawtree Creek and the A subway line — floods often and was classified as Zone A. They didn’t go far, however, taking shelter at the Surfside Motel on Cross Bay Boulevard. Sandy’s storm surge flooded the hotel with six feet of water.
When she returned home the next day, she found her house had been hit by a 10-foot storm surge.
“I opened the door, looked in and then closed it right away,” Ferrara-Rodriquez said. “I couldn’t handle what I saw at that time.”
It would be several more weeks before she would return to begin the cleanup, which itself took several months. She was not able to return to live in the house until last February.
But even then, with a new boiler installed, thanks to the city’s Rapid Repairs program, her house was nowhere near what it was. For months, progress has been slow. One contractor did such a terrible job, much of what he did had to be redone. The cutouts in the Sheetrock for outlets and switches didn’t line up right, her new radiators had bent coils and her back sliding door was installed wrong and crooked — and those who installed it damaged the fence and steps on her back deck.
To make matters worse, there are three cracks in her foundation and inspectors discovered mold in her exterior walls behind the siding. Now, 14 months later, her house is still not a home. And there’s no telling when it will be.
“We still need some Sheetrock installed in the first floor and insulation,” she said.
Though she had full flood insurance protection, Ferrera-Rodriquez said, the funds have been slow in coming. The banks have been holding back the money, claiming that she needs to reach a certain threshold of completion before she gets more money.
“They want me at 90 percent, but how can I get 90 percent of this home finished if I can’t get the money?” she said. “You tell me.”
She pointed out that in some cases, Hurricane Katrina victims did not get all the funds they needed for two years. She added that many of her neighbors are in the same position as she.
“Look up and down these blocks and you’ll see home after home in the same situation,” Ferrera-Rodriquez said.
On Dec 18, a group called Faith in New York, an interfaith, multicultural federation of over 50 congregations citywide, held a vigil in Hamilton Beach to pressure Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio to prioritize those who are still struggling to recover from Sandy in his first weeks in office. The vigil began at the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department headquarters and went to Ferrera-Rodriquez’s home a few blocks away.
“While city leaders take a victory lap, families we minister to in neighborhoods like Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, and Far Rockaway are still waiting and suffering unnecessarily,” says Msgr. Al Lo Pinto, vicar for Human Services in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Catholic Charities, and pastor of St. Helen Church in Howard Beach. “De Blasio must make New York City a model for how to leverage billions in disaster recovery funds to create long-term resiliency for Sandy survivors and other vulnerable New Yorkers, emphasizing repairs, good jobs, and affordable housing.”
The de Blasio administration has until March 18 to submit its plan to HUD for how it will maximize public benefit and create long-term resiliency. Faith in New York is hoping that by then, the new administration will have released the more than $628 million in funds attached to the city’s Build It Back program. Some of that money is what Ferrera-Rodriquez is waiting for to move forward with rebuilding.
She said she still plans on bringing the house back to the way it was before the storm — and hopefully better.
“This was such a beautiful home,” Ferrera-Rodriquez said. “Hopefully it will be again soon.”