Demolition began Thursday on Staten Island as homeowners who suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Sandy have the option of a government buyout, but while the program is available, it comes with some strings attached. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
On Thursday morning, the first Staten Island home was razed after the owners agreed to a government buyout.
"As much as we love the neighborhood and made it the best that we could, it's not safe, and God forbid something like this should happen again," said owner Nancy Gardini.
Oakwood Beach on Staten Island organized as a community and took advantage of the money made available from a $50 billion federal appropriation approved by Congress for storm relief earlier this year.
"You need a united community. You need a community where the entire homeowner group wants to sell their homes, because if you have a pocket here and a pocket there, you won't get the natural resiliency you want," said New York State Storm Recovery Director Seth Diamond.
Out of the $1.7 billion the state has so far received for homes and small businesses, $800 million is slated for housing, including reimbursement, repair and even razing. Of that $800 million, $160 million went to buyouts on Staten Island.
While Staten Island is moving forward with the program, some of the other hardest hit areas in parts of Brooklyn and Queens have not taken advantage of the program.
"I think residents in southern Queens and Rockaway are very proud of the neighborhoods, and they've chosen to live there because they love the neighborhood and they love the people around them," said Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder of Queens. "I think the idea of buying out their home is almost kind of offensive to them."
"We left it up to the community. We left it up to the individual," Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. "We didn't say to anyone, 'You should move. Enough is enough.' That was their own decision, their own locally driven decision."
So far, 418 parcels of land on Staten Island have qualified for the buyout. The average homeowner received $400,000.
Once the homes are razed in Oakwood Beach, the land will be turned into a buffer zone to prevent destruction from future storms.
Congress gave New York State a timetable of two years to spend the money appropriated for storm damage.