On July 31, a brigade of Hurricane Sandy victims and community organizations sang in unison as they marched from Staten Island Ferry Terminal to City Hall. Sponsored by Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (AJR), a coalition of Sandy-impacted labor unions, and community, faith, environmental, and policy organizations, the march aimed to send a message to candidates vying for the mayoral seat in the next election.
The march took place in conjunction with the release of AJR’s rebuilding plan, developed by those living and working in communities that bore the brunt of Superstorm Sandy and continue to struggle with damaged and destroyed housing.
“We’re here advocating for Sandy victims that haven’t been helped yet and also for those whose homes have not been repaired,” says Jose Castillo of LiUNA! Local 10. “We are advocating for the City of New York and for the State of New York to release the funds so that these people get their lives back and can rebuild their homes.”
Congregating at South Ferry, the group marched up State Street and took a detour at the historic Zuccotti Park where leaders of various communities groups spoke about changes they want to see in mayoral administration.
Marchers continued to City Hall for a subsequent press conference where speakers from AJR member organizations spoke on AJR’s four-point agenda: affordable housing, good jobs, sustainable energy, and community empowerment and engagement. In laying out these demands to the steps of City Hall, AJR and others hope post-Sandy rebuilding takes center stage in the mayoral race.
AJR’s plan was created following the June release of Mayor Bloomberg’s $20 billion rebuilding and resiliency plan. Bloomberg’s plan guarantees funding to affected communities via CDBGs and investment initiatives carried out by the NYC Economic Development Corp. When this money begins to reach communities, AJR wants to ensure that the next mayor will see to equitable recovery process. This means protecting these communities from economic and social displacement that often comes with rebuilding.
To many members of Sandy-affected communities, Bloomberg’s 438-page report falls short by failing to put the community at the center of rebuilding efforts and decision-making. As a result, the city funds sweeping proposals that often overlook the unique needs of communities vital to recovery. Coalitions such as AJR believe community stability is part and parcel of community recovery.
Moreover, many Sandy-affected communities remain just that — Sandy-affected. Residents around the city are fighting substantial rent hikes. Homeowners and businesses in the Rockaways and Staten Island have not received funding to rebuild. Backlogged repairs in NYCHA homes that were heavily exacerbated by Sandy have received shoddy and impermanent fixes.
To New Yorkers and the city alike, Superstorm Sandy has revealed the city’s greatest infrastructural, economic, and social inequities and vulnerabilities. But AJR and supporters see Sandy as an opportunity to change the process of planning and decision-making in NYC—to bring it to community organizations on the ground—and to fortify NYC’s most vulnerable areas.
“I really think again we can turn this strategy into an opportunity to really make sure we’re turning the tide from a city that is unequal where people don’t have the social and economic infrastructure they need to survive, into a city that listens and where we have those things and we’re able to withstand future disasters,” says AJR coordinator Nathalie Allegra.
As the mayoral election draws nearer, time is of the essence for Sandy-affected New Yorkers. In June, Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), a coalition building organization for which Allegra serves as organizer, hosted a successful mayoral forum where post-Sandy rebuilding was a hot-button issue. Next, AJR will invite candidates to local tours of affected areas.
Says Allegra, “We really hope that the mayoral candidates—the one to succeed Mayor Bloomberg—take close notice of what Sandy survivors, community organizations, low-income New Yorkers, workers, and others really want to see coming from Sandy investments.”