State details plan to buy Sandy-damaged homes

After superstorm Sandy, at least four of the After superstorm Sandy, at least four of the five houses on Bayview Place, a cul-de-sac off Clocks Boulevard in Massapequa, were so badly damaged they are no longer habitable. (Nov. 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

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New York State's plan for buying storm-damaged homes in some coastal areas of Long Island includes financial incentives that range from 5 percent to 25 percent on top of pre-storm fair-market value.

Under a proposal called Recreate NY Home Buyout Program, the state for the first time Tuesday detailed its $171-million plan to buy damaged homes as an alternative to rebuilding in flood-prone areas.

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How much money the state will offer homeowners as an inducement to sell depends on how close houses are to the water, according to the plan for spending federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to use HUD community development block grants to buy and demolish waterfront homes -- mostly to create undeveloped coastal buffers -- has not drawn widespread interest on Long Island. While the idea has support in a few communities, including Mastic Beach, most people want to rebuild, officials have said.

The different options for voluntary buyouts include:

Standard -- For properties inside the 500-year floodplain, payment of 100 percent of pre-storm fair-market value for homes with damage equal to 50 percent or more of that value.

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Enhanced -- In selected pre-defined areas known as "high risk," to be determined with county and local government, payment of pre-storm fair-market value plus incentives ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent of that value. Lots would be maintained as coastal buffer zones. Currently vacant or undeveloped land also would be eligible.

For property in the pre-defined targeted areas, those cash incentives may include 5 percent for owners who remain in the same county for a "defined period of years."

The enhanced buyout plan also offers an extra 10 percent to entice owners in targeted areas to participate, saying the land will be "reclaimed by nature" and "maintained into perpetuity as coastal buffer zone."

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Yet another 10 percent is offered as a "group buyout incentive" to encourage "a certain limited cluster of homeowners" in high-risk areas to move.

David Godschalk, a University of North Carolina professor who studies how regions recover from natural disasters, said moving people out of harm's way through such buyout programs can be one of the most effective ways to protect against future storms. But he said officials should move cautiously in buying houses in less-risky areas.

"I'd want to look very carefully to see whether those homes are really in imminent danger," Godschalk said. "Otherwise, what's the point?"

Financial assistance for appraisal, survey and demolition could be available.

The state also is seeking a waiver from federal housing officials so that redevelopment of some properties within the 100-year floodplain can occur, if housing built in the future contains features to prevent flooding, state officials said.

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While the government would pay pre-storm values for houses most prone to flooding, those in less-risky areas would receive their current value. And instead of preserving land in less-risky areas as open space, officials would sell it to developers who agree to rebuild houses or businesses that could better withstand future floods, officials said.

With Joe Ryan

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