By the time Anne Pierre and her sons arrived at 199 Amboy Street, it was after midnight. The heat of the unusually warm April day had all but drained away, but there was a mellowness to the air, a contrast to the sharp, cold spring nights that had come before. From the outside, the red-brick building looked clean and well-maintained, though the darkness made it difficult to tell for sure. In Ms. Pierre’s experience, the exteriors of homeless shelters were poor predictors of conditions inside.
Late though it was, the family’s arrival at the Brownsville shelter marked the somewhat triumphant culmination of a bureaucratic odyssey that had started two days earlier, when Ms. Pierre had reapplied for shelter at the family intake center in the Bronx. It was only somewhat triumphant in that 199 Amboy was just a 10-day placement, the latest in a string of temporary housing assignments that had become the norm since the family lost its eligibility for shelter in February. But as it turned out, 199 Amboy was the nicest place Ms. Pierre and the two boys stayed since entering the shelter system in June 2012.
As 9-year-old Jordan described their arrival, “When we saw it, we was shocked. It was nice. It was decent.”
Decent is the kind of good-enough existence that has seemed to elude the family for the last 10 months. But it felt potentially within reach again when they fell asleep that night at a little after 1 a.m., relieved if still wary, with the alarm set for 6 a.m.—the preparations necessary for the school day ahead as uncompromising as the dawn.
Like many other families who have recently swelled the ranks of the city’s homeless population, routine has taken on an almost talismanic significance for Ms. Pierre and her boys. They live an approximation of a life that involved, until recently, an apartment of their own—a two-bedroom on Legion Street rented for four years with the help of a Section 8 voucher. Ms. Pierre paid $350 of the $1,100 rent until a recurrent mold problem disqualified the apartment.
The City of New York, like many other large landowners, has been selling its land for centuries. However, these last few months have brought what many consider to be a disconcerting flurry of real estate transactions as the city, citing a cash crunch, moves to sell off a number of schools, libraries and municipal buildings.
The city and others have lauded the sell-off as a way to bring much-needed monies to institutions that are in dire need of help. Trading in valuable real estate, we are told, will keep the city’s civic institutions afloat. If only it didn’t have the vaguely desperate vibe of a pawn shop swap.
- The intimidatingly assiduous Peggy Siegal greets people at the door; thanks us for coming to celebrate party with The New York Observer. “We are The New York Observer!” We cry. She doesn’t even pause. “Well, it’s great to see you anyway.”
-Terry McDonell: I’ve always loved the Observer, I have great respect for Peter Kaplan. The coverage of everything I was interested in New York in the past 25 years was reflected in The Observer at the highest level.
- Ray Kelly recalls the last time he was at the Four Seasons. “[We] feel like you never leave,” we tell the Police Commissioner. His reply: “A lot of people feel that way.”
New York apartments are notorious for being about as big as a shoe box, but those were typically 19th century tenements. Today, the Bloomberg administration brought tiny apartments into the 21 century with My Micro NY, the winning entry in a competition launched last July to create a miniature housing model for the city.
Currently, it is illegal to build a new apartment smaller than 450 square feet, but the new program seeks comfortable, attractive housing units between 250 and 375 square feet. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development received 33 different entries for the project, which will be built on a city-owned site in Murray Hill.
One of the big debates that has been raging around the rezoning of Midtown East is how it might impact development already underway around the city, much of it funded in part by the public sector, and thus taxpayers. Should these projects fail, Joe Public could lose out on his investment.
The World Trade Center and Hudson Yards have been two focal points, but Manhattan West, which broke ground yesterday, ought to be considered, too. While the project’s backers bragged at the groundbreaking about building without public subsidy, they are still competing for the same anchor tenants as their rivals further east. Furthermore, the $2 billion the city contributed to the construction of the 7 train nearby is to be paid back through property taxes on the new projects. No new development, no bond proceeds, big trouble for the city.
Still, Mayor Bloomberg is standing by the decision to fast-track the Midtown rezoning and ensure it gets completed this year.
Planes Trains & Automobiles
One of the more unusual sides of the city’s response to Superstorm Sandy has been the ingenuity of the transportation and planning wonks that help us get around this giant metropolis. It is not only the speed with which the MTA recovered, but also what it and the city’s Department of Transportation did in between. Creating bus bridges to replace flooded subways, launching new ferry lines, creating special subway shuttles.
Today, Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced yet another innovation, a second ferry for Staten Island. The Rockaways already has one, and now the city is looking for an operator to serve the hardest-hit sections of Staten Island’s south shore. With widespread destruction, many locals’ lives have been interrupted, forcing them to leave behind their homes and cars. The new ferry service is seen as a lifeline between Great Kills and Manhattan, for those struggling to get to work and beyond.
It’s starting to seem like Mayor Bloomberg is the only one who doesn’t think storm barriers are a worthwhile investment. Not only do Governor Cuomo, MTA chief Joe Lhota and both Jerry Nadler and Chuck Schumer think it’s a good idea, but so do 80 percent of New York City voters, according to a new Quinnipiac poll out today.
They were asked, specifically, if it was worth spending billions—no exact amount, or source of funds beyond the federal and state governments was given—on new waterfront infrastructure. Only 14 percent thought it was not worth the cost. Support was even higher when the pollsters asked if the cost was justified it if the storm protections could “reduce the cost of disruption and restoration.” Then, 88 percent supported the new infrastructure, compared to 6 percent who did not support.
It has been a difficult few weeks for New York, to say the least, and that goes for the two men at the center of the recovery, too, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Both men have worked tirelessly for the past 25 days, first preparing the city and the state for the approaching superstorm, and then helping everyone recover from the disaster. That job will continue for months, even years, but at the same time, life must go on. And for the chief executives of New York City and New York State, that process has slowly begun. And it all started today. Or so their public schedules would suggest.
The public schedule for the mayor and the governor is a sacred text, at least in news rooms across the city. Like the AP daybook, it is the document by which reporters set their clocks and live their lives. Normally, there is a mix of big announcements—a new budget, a new anti-poverty initiative, a ribbon cutting for a new park—and small appearances—a parade, a gala, a public policy conference.
Even before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, as the mayor and governor scrambled to prepare New Yorkers for the oncoming storm, there has been none of that, and certainly nothing since. It has been all Sandy, all the time.
Hurricane Sandy has left thousands, possibly tens of thousands of New Yorkers without their homes. There will be much rebuilding for many months, if not years, on the South Shore, Red Hook, Coney, the Rockaways and beyond. Whether it is an entire house, from the foundation up, or some section of home, the wall, the room, the mechanical systems, thousands of homeowners are in desperate need of help, especially as winter sets in.
Normally, this might pose a particular challenge—contractors are already plenty busy, and who knows if they insurance company of FEMA will pay up in time. “Until today, homeowners would have largely been left to fend for themselves to get an electrician or a contractor to get this work done,” Mayor Bloomberg remarked at a press briefing this afternoon. “While FEMA offers assistance to pay for these repairs, it was still up to the homeowner to arrange for the work and carry it out.”
When Hurricane Sandy came ashore, it fell to the city’s leaders and the thousands of workers at their command to secure our coasts, to rescue those trapped by water and without power, to help the city rebuild. The Observer spent Monday and Tuesday talking with New York’s top public officials about Hurricane Sandy. These are their experiences in their own words.
Joe Lhota, chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Authority: I have an app on my iPad that monitors hurricanes on the East Coast. I have always lived on the water. I always watch the app. So when I first got involved in this—it was long before it even hit Jamaica—I knew when it started as a tropical storm, and a hurricane, and a tropical storm, and then a hurricane again.
Joe Bruno, commissioner, NYC Office of Emergency Management: We follow the weather very closely this time of year as it comes off the tip of Africa, or wherever it develops. This particular storm came out of the southwest of the Caribbean. At 11 a.m. on October 22, we saw a tropical depression. At that point it’s just a depression, and you don’t know much about it. By 6 p.m., it was upgraded already to a tropical storm called Sandy. It continued to strengthen during the next day, and we kept track of it as it moved across Jamaica.