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A Tale of Two Recoveries: The Rockaways After Sandy

Tenants of New York City’s Housing Authority (NYCHA) in the Rockaways experienced a vastly different means of recovery from Superstorm Sandy than area homeowners, according to Professor Leigh Graham (John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center). Her research, published in Urban Affairs Review, examined the difficulties public housing residents in the Rockaways faced during the recovery period.  

The barrier island was one of the hardest hit in the city. Graham wrote how it “endured storm surges in excess of nine feet from Sandy, extensive fires that destroyed more than 130 homes across the peninsula, the destruction of the area’s treasured Rockaway Beach boardwalk, and the erasure of more than one million cubic yards of sand from the shore.” The area was also without power longer than other parts of the city.

Specifically, NYCHA buildings suffered from damaged boilers, hot water issues, and mold and mildew, while residents experienced damage to playgrounds and other community gathering spaces, lost access to polling places, and became more physically isolated. 

Graham found that those living in public housing felt disempowered in several ways, including advocating for themselves, aligning their concerns with those of their neighbors, and being present at local planning meetings. “The biggest difference we found was that the homeowners felt like they had a voice, they were making an impact, they were being heard, and the tenants did not feel like they were being heard,” said Graham. 

She identified several factors that contributed to tenants’ unequal experiences:

  • Their stigmatized identities as low-income people of color created an “inferior status” that rationalized their unequal treatment 
  • Tenants felt alienated and felt it was pointless to attend meetings and protests as nothing would change
  • U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has its own resident councils, which led tenants to focus their efforts on HUD rather than on community-wide efforts

“I really would like to see the public housing residents have more of a political voice and impact in both neighborhood and city politics,” said Graham. 

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
Public Housing Participation in Superstorm Sandy Recovery: Living in a Differentiated State in Rockaway, Queens

Work By
Leigh Graham (Assistant Professor, Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Environmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
John Jay College of Criminal Justice The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“A Tale of Two Recoveries: The Rockaways After Superstorm Sandy” (GC News)

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Beyond SUM