COVID Pandemic Stalls NYC Resilience Funding Bill — Minorities Stand to Lose The Most

New York homes still being rebuilt 5 years after Sandy        Photo: Whoisjohngalt, Wiki Creative Commons

Eight years ago Superstorm Sandy killed 44 people in New York City, cost the City approximately $19 billion in damages and lost economic activity according to city officials, and left more than 69,000 residences damaged.  Inside Climate News’ Kristoffer Tigue reported that earlier this year the New York state legislature was poised to pass a $3b bill called the “Restore Mother Nature Bond Act,” which would have allowed the state to issued bonds to help fund projects specifically geared toward reducing New York’s flood risk.  But because of $30B funding shortfalls due to the COVID pandemic, Governor Cuomo said it wouldn’t be “financially prudent” to pursue the bond legislation until next year.

Why This Matters:  Advocates argue that this delay in climate adaptation funding will hurt New York City’s low-income communities of color, which already bear a disproportionate burden of climate impacts. New York’s coast is likely to experience 2 feet of sea-level rise by 2045 according to a 2018 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and in the meantime, many more storms like Sandy could bring chaos to the lives of tens thousands of New Yorkers without better mitigation against storm surge.  As Julie Tighe of the New York League of Conservation Voters said, “When the coronavirus lets up, the climate crisis will still be here.” 

Recovering From Sandy

Many people whose homes were destroyed by Sandy had to live in a hotel for years until their homes were finally rebuilt.  If another storm like that were to hit now, when many of the city’s low-income residents are behind on mortgage payments, if their homes are destroyed they could find themselves homeless — under water literally and financially.  The Union of Concerned Scientists report found that no homes in wealthy Manhattan were at risk of repeated flooding by 2045 but in Queens, a borough with a much higher percentage of low income and minority residents than Manhattan, thousands of homes are at risk of chronic flooding by then.

Many advocates worry that other states will follow New York’s lead and because of the COVID funding crunch back away from commitments to make similar investments in climate resilience.  Unfortunately, the Governor’s request for $30b in federal assistance for New York related to the coronavirus is caught up in the Congressional stalemate with the White House over further pandemic-related stimulus funding for cities and states.  On the other hand, state officials believe that if former Vice President Biden wins the Presidential election, a Biden administration would be receptive to providing federal aid to New York for climate adaptation projects as long as the state is willing to pay for a share of the project costs.

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