Governor Cuomo wants to spend $400 million to buy up the homes of New Yorkers who live in flood-prone areas like the Rockaways and the Staten Island waterfront. It would be money well spent.
Superstorm Sandy was both a reminder of the risks homeowners have taken and a harbinger of disasters to come. In the Fox Beach section of Staten Island, beachfront homes were built adjacent to inland wetlands—the views were terrific, but Mother Nature had a way of reminding residents that they were intruding on her turf. Sandy devastated the neighborhood, and now residents are eager to leave. Under Mr. Cuomo’s plan, they would receive the pre-storm cash value of their homes. They would leave, their homes would be razed and the land returned to nature.
Mr. Cuomo has said repeatedly that he and other officials must assume that storms like Sandy will be a regular occurrence in the coming decades. That means reimagining the city’s vulnerable waterfront not as desirable real estate, but as a first line of protection from future storm surges.
Under the governor’s plan, entire neighborhoods could be converted into a natural barrier, as nature no doubt intended. Residents who accept the buyout and move to another residence within the same county will get a 5 percent bonus. That incentive may prevent a mass flight to other regions of the country.
The buyout money would come from federal funds earmarked for Sandy relief and recovery. That means the governor’s plan is subject to approvals from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency Mr. Cuomo ran in the late 1990s. With any luck, HUD will see the wisdom of giving something back to Mother Nature—something that was hers all along.