Millions in Sandy recovery funds support new rental housing

Emily C. Dooley, Staff Writer
Newsday /

“The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery is spending $68.6 million in federal disaster recovery money to help fund construction of 695 affordable housing units statewide, replenishing stocks damaged by superstorm Sandy and tropical storms Irene and Lee.

The spending includes $13.25 million to partially cover the cost of 135 apartments at complexes in Copiague and Riverhead that will feature raised electrical panels, repaired bulkheads and other resiliency measures.

The storm recovery money is being used in Sandy-affected communities or nearby areas, said James Rubin, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal and former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

“What makes a community resilient in the face of a storm is a resilient housing stock,” he said.

Nearly 17,000 rental units on Long Island and upstate were damaged during the 2011 and 2012 storms. Of those, 2,069 units were severely damaged, according to state data.

Money from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery helps fill funding gaps for the projects while ensuring that the new housing units are storm-ready, spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said.

“We have a commitment to rebuilding in a more resilient way,” said Paul Lozito, director of housing policy and affordable housing at the state’s storm recovery office.

After Sandy struck in October 2012, New York was granted about $4.4 billion in recovery money to rebuild, with a focus on resiliency in housing and infrastructure.

The state has committed $110 million for affordable rental housing and $88.6 million of that has been allocated for specific projects, including those in Riverhead and Copiague, Brancaccio said.

State officials say they believe the affordable housing fund is adequate to meet need. “The $110 million is a very large number but there is also a lot of other things going to help rental housing,” said Simon McDonnell, director for Research and Strategic Analysis for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

The two Long Island projects will convert commercial buildings to residential, using a mix of federal, state, public and private money.

“For affordable housing development on Long Island, very typically there are many layers of subsidy on the development side,” said Marianne Garvin, president and chief executive officer of Community Development Corp. of Long Island.

Garvin’s group and Conifer Realty are the developers. They also used funding and tax credits from New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the state’s Housing Trust Fund Corp. The Empire State Development Corp. also pitched in financial support in Peconic, as did Suffolk County for the Copiague Commons.

Specifics on the developments, according to Garvin, include:

Copiague Commons. Work on the $31.6 million project on Railroad Avenue began in May and should take a year to 18 months to complete. The complex will have 56 one-bedroom and 34 two-bedroom apartments.

Monthly rents will range from $1,193 to $1,450 for the smaller units and $1,431 to $1,850 for the larger units, depending on household income. They will be targeted to families earning 60 percent to 100 percent of area median income.

Peconic Crossing. Construction of the complex on Riverhead’s Main Street should begin by the end of the year. The $17.5 million project will have 16 one-bedroom and 29 two-bedroom apartments.

Monthly rents will be based on household income and range from $952 to $1,133 for one-bedroom units and $1,141 to $1,528 for two-bedroom units.

Residents who are artists or were displaced by Sandy will have preference for apartments at Peconic Crossing. An artists’ gallery and parking will occupy the first floor, and all residential units will be above federal flood elevation requirements.

“Communities are trying really hard with these commercial buildings to do it right this time so it doesn’t happen again, because we know another storm is coming,” Garvin said.

Depending on the projects, rents will be regulated for 15 to 20 years.

Brancaccio said working with state affordable-housing agencies makes sense because they are familiar with the demands and needs.

“We have certain requirements and objectives to replenish the units that have been taken offline because of the storm,” she said.

Using disaster recovery money is one way the state can fund affordable housing projects, Rubin said.

“This kind of affordable development the agency does really well,” Rubin said. “If we have capital we will absolutely do more.”

Portions of the disaster recovery money also are going to affordable housing projects in Broome, Dutchess, Oneida, Schenectady, Tompkins, Tioga and Westchester counties.”

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