How Hurricane Sandy Impacted New York City’s Immigrants

Hurricane Sandy impact in Staten Island (Photo: Flickr/John de Guzman)

Hurricane Sandy’s impact in Staten Island (Photo: Flickr/John de Guzman)

Like many New Yorkers, Joseph McKellar looks back at the destruction caused one year ago by Hurricane Sandy and sees a crisis that was already in the making. “Sandy didn’t create a bunch of problems,” said McKellar, who heads Faith in New York, a Queens-based community organization.  “It highlighted problems that existed in places like the Rockaways, Howard Beach and Brighton Beach, problems like the broken immigration system. People aren’t resilient enough to bounce back if they do not own their own home, have insurance or are (not) documented citizens.”

All hurricane victims suffered losses, and immigrants were especially hard hit.  Many were unsure if they could apply for aid because of their immigration status. As of December 2012, 78% of immigrants surveyed in the disaster zones had not applied for relief.

“Sandy did not discriminate (based on immigration status) but the recovery effort did,” said Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition.

After the hurricane the group Make the Road New York surveyed immigrant communities and found that 40% of the city’s immigrants reported economic damage due to the storm.  On Staten Island nearly two thirds of the immigrants surveyed reported economic damage related to Sandy. The report highlighted problems including mold infestation, rising rents and misinformation about what benefits were available.

The report also addressed the question of why immigrants were especially vulnerable.

  • In New York City, 30% of immigrants are poor and 53% are categorized as low income. For these immigrants a missed check due to the storm severely impacted their ability to meet basic needs.
  • Most of the immigrants surveyed were renters (61%), which made them especially vulnerable to rental abuse or rise in rents. Additionally, multiple  families often share a single house, which complicated the application process because FEMA automatically rejected multiple applications from one address.
  • Immigrants and low-income Latinos are more likely to work in jobs with no paid leave.  Missing work due to the storm hit these residents especially hard.

A year later, the effects of the storm are still being felt. “Yesterday I was walking through Midland Beach with a member of (our group) and she pointed to a little orange house and said that would have cost 600 dollars a month to rent, now it goes for 1000 dollars,” said Melissa McCrumb from Make the Road New York.

When asked what changes need to be made in the wake of the hurricane, McKellar of Faith in New York said that preparing for the next hurricane should not just be about building a stronger infrastructure. “(You) can’t just build more seawalls, storm barriers,” he said. “(It’s) not about building higher and bigger to protect us from the next storm surge. You have to invest in people, creating pathways to economic opportunities.”

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.