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Comptroller: $101B of NYC Properties Face Superstorm Risk

New York City has lagged in implementing resiliency projects to protect coastal areas from rising sea levels and the threat of another superstorm, Comptroller Scott Stringer says in a new report. As of this past March 31, the city had spent only 54% of the $14.7 billion in federal funds allocated after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the report says.

Despite urgent threat of more frequent and ferocious storms, City has spent only 54 percent of nearly $15 billion in federal Sandy funding intended to help New York recover and boost resiliency. NYCHA and Health + Hospitals have spent only 41 percent and 20 percent of FEMA funding respectively .. Stringer calls on Feds to cut red tape and streamline process for accessing aid, urges City to accelerate spending on resiliency and Sandy recovery, and calls for citywide resiliency plan to protect all coastal communities

(New York, NY) — Today, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released a new report, “Safeguarding Our Shores: Protecting New York City’s Coastal Communities from Climate Change,” detailing the imminent threat posed by rising sea levels and the City’s slow pace of investment on crucial resiliency projects. The report shows that as of March 31st, 2019 the City had spent only 54 percent of a combined $14.7 billion in federal Superstorm Sandy funding, including money allocated to repair City infrastructure, help homeowners recover, and implement large scale resiliency projects. The picture is even bleaker at NYCHA and NYC Health + Hospitals, where the City had only spent 41 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of federally allocated funding, leaving future tenants and patients exposed to the next large storm. Given the urgency of safeguarding the city, the Comptroller called on each level of government to redouble efforts to ensure that federal dollars are put to work protecting our shores. The slow pace of investment leaves as much as $101.5 billion in property value, such as homes, hospitals and businesses, vulnerable to more frequent and more intense storms, according to a new Comptroller’s Office analysis of property development within the City’s current floodplain.

“It’s not a question of whether New York will be hit by another superstorm like Sandy, but when. Yet six years after Sandy hit, we still haven’t fully recovered and many of the City’s homes, businesses, schools and hospitals remain dangerously exposed to the next storm. We have to do more, and we have to do it now,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Safeguarding our shorefront is not a priority we can kick down the road – it’s an emergency. Lives are at stake, homes and businesses are on the line, and futures hang in the balance. We need to act with the urgency that our climate crisis demands because time is not on our side.”

Slow Pace of Investment on Resiliency Projects

In the more than six years following Superstorm Sandy, the City has been slow to draw down on federally allocated funding designated for Sandy recovery and coastal resiliency. As of March 31, 2019 – the latest date for which figures are available – the City had spent only 54 percent of a combined $14.7 billion in federal Sandy funding, including funding from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • Of $10.3 million in FEMA funds designated towards repairing and improving crucial components of New York City’s public infrastructure, the City has spent only 43.9 percent of available funds.
  • That includes a dismal 20 percent of funds allocated to NYC Health + Hospitals spent.
  • Meanwhile, just 41 percent of funds allocated to NYCHA, and 57 percent of funds allocated to the School Construction Authority, have been spent.
  • Of the $4.2 million in HUD dollars allocated for programs like “Build It Back,” business recovery, and resiliency projects, 79 percent of funds have been spent. Yet notably the City has spent only 14 percent of funding allocated for crucial large-scale resiliency projects such as the East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan and the Hunts Point Lifelines Plan, in addition to raised shorelines in Breezy Point, Coney Island, and Sheepshead Bay.

Despite Property Values Increasing Along the Coast, the City’s Shoreline Remains Dangerously Exposed

Comptroller Stringer’s report offers a brand new analysis of the amount of economic value situated within FEMA’s current flood insurance maps. The Comptroller’s analysis shows that the current value of properties within the floodplain is projected to rise to a staggering $101 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 — an increase of 73 percent since FY 2010. The value of property at risk from floodwaters provides a clear and urgent rationale for resiliency spending.

Speeding up Spending

While implementation of complex resiliency projects work requires significant care and time, meeting the challenge of climate change requires using every possible resource. Research shows that every federal grant dollar dedicated towards flood mitigation can save $6 in future disaster costs. The Comptroller is calling on the Federal Government to cut red tape and streamline the flow of disaster aid dollars and is urging the City to accelerate the pace of spending on resiliency infrastructure and implement new strategies to protect all coastal communities. For example, just one program covered by FEMA-PA reimbursement — the City’s Rapid Repair program – required the City to produce 100 million pages of documentation to the federal government. The City also has been obligated to undertake as many as 12,841 environmental reviews to access CDBG-DR funding, each of which take time and help slow down the pace of City spending of federal dollars.

Protecting all Coastal Communities

To help bolster the City’s resiliency, Comptroller Stringer outlined a comprehensive set of proposals to protect shorefront communities in preparation for future extreme weather events:

  • Expedite the pace of spending on resiliency infrastructure by harnessing already-allocated federal funding to plan and install coastal defenses in exposed communities;
  • Develop a citywide comprehensive coastal resiliency plan for every mile of coastline to mitigate both short and long-term risk, particularly focusing on low-income communities;
  • Expand neighborhood-based buyout programs designed to help homeowners escape the prospect of frequent flooding in targeted neighborhoods;
  • Explore new revenue sources, such as a small surcharge on high value insurance policies to fund “Blue Bonds” aimed at financing coastal resiliency projects;
  • Learn from the mistakes and successes of the City’s beleaguered “Build It Back” program to develop a housing recovery program that can effectively respond to future storms; and,
  • Expand access to low-cost resiliency loans and vouchers aimed at allowing homeowners and business to undertake resiliency retrofits, including elevations.

“The Waterfront Alliance commends Comptroller Stringer for taking on the existential issue of our time for the City of New York, our region, and our globe: climate change. The report highlights the costs of inaction and the great challenges before us. Importantly, how are we paying for resiliency?  The report highlights key proposals – a comprehensive coastal resilience plan, accelerating the pace of investment in resiliency projects, and increased funding for retrofit and buyout programs – as important parts of a solution,” said Roland Lewis, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance. “There is no silver bullet. As the Comptroller rightly notes, we need a comprehensive perspective to address the scope of the challenge. We need to adapt at the scale of our homes, our infrastructure, and our policies, and we need to do so in a way that is just, transparent, and reflective of the diverse voices that make up this great city. Time is of the essence to invest in the transition of our resources and policies to reflect a vision for our future: resilient, sustainable, equitable, and vibrant. We’re in this together.”

“Comptroller Stringer’s call to fund urgently needed resiliency projects through a small surcharge on high value property and causality insurance is the type of bold action we need to properly prepare New York City from the next threat of climate change,” said Rob Freudenberg, Vice President for Energy and Environment at Regional Plan Association. “As Regional Plan Association proposed in its 2017 regional plan, a surcharge of just one percent on all insurance policies in the state could fund $2.7 billion to protect vulnerable residents, infrastructure and buildings.”

To read Comptroller Stringer’s full report and recommendations on protecting the city’s vulnerable coastlines, click here.

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See Office of the NYC Comptroller press release . . .