Government leaders are turning their attention to the next crisis unfolding in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy: finding housing for potentially tens of thousands of people left homeless.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it already has dispensed close to $200 million in emergency housing assistance and has put up 34,000 people in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area in hotels and motels.
But local, state and federal officials have yet to lay out a specific, comprehensive plan for finding them long-term places to live, even as cold weather sets in. And given the scarcity and high cost of housing in the metropolitan area and the lack of open space, it could prove a monumental undertaking.
For example, can enough vacant apartments be found? Will the task involve huge, Hurricane Katrina-style encampments of trailer homes? And if so, where will authorities put the trailers? In stadiums? Parks?
Authorities cannot answer those questions yet.
“It’s not going to be a simple task. It’s going to be one of the most complicated and long-term recovery efforts in U.S. history,” said Mark Merritt, president of Witt Associates, a Washington crisis management consulting firm founded by former FEMA director James Lee Witt.
Tactics that FEMA used in other disasters could be difficult to apply in the city. For example, Merritt said, it’s impossible to set up trailers in people’s driveways if everyone lives in an apartment building, and it’s harder to find space to set up mobile homes.