Surf Road in Lindenhurst bends around a canal and ends at Great Neck Creek near the Great South Bay.
At night the quiet can be a little frightening, neighbors say. Surf Road, like others on Long Island, was ravaged by superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters Oct. 29, 2012, and four years later is still dealing with the consequences.
On many streets near the water on Long Island’s South Shore, Sandy changed and is still changing, life. A visit to Surf Road and to a block on New Hampshire Street in the quaint West End neighborhood of Long Beach reveals just how much.
On Surf Road, about a third of the 30 or so houses were vacated in the two years after the storm and most remain dark. New York Rising, a state entity distributing federal funds for Sandy relief, purchased 12 of these houses from homeowners and sold 10 at auction last year. Two more are earmarked for affordable housing.
Almost none are ready for occupancy. The owners of six other houses and two rental properties received money to elevate and repair.
The homeowners who remain on the block persevere and wait for life to fully return to normal.
“Stick, stay and make it pay,” said Kevin Farley, a store manager whose house was recently elevated with New York Rising money, three years after he and his wife Cindy, an accountant, had applied for it.
The couple, both 38, pushed through waist-high floodwaters to flee Sandy. She was eight months pregnant. On Oct. 4, they welcomed a daughter to join their son, who will soon turn 4, as the latest round of construction wound down. “We’re stronger now than we ever were,” Farley said. “We’re a closer-knit neighborhood — whoever is left, let’s put it that way.”
Neighbors who lived on the block for decades took the acquisition offers and scattered. Lynda Arciero, 70, moved into her house 66 years ago. “It’s deserted,” she said, looking around her block. “I lost a lot of longtime neighbors.”
“It’s very sad,” said her visiting aunt, Nora Quigley, 88, who spent childhood summers across the street in a house much enlarged now after three years of construction by a new owner. “I hate to say it, but at night it’s almost eerie. I’m waiting for the neighborhood to come back to life.”
In the summer after superstorm Sandy, all the homeowners were still in their houses, which had been mostly made livable. They rallied and grew close. That summer they held a block party that stretched from one end of Surf Road to the other.
“It was a big hit,” said Jackie Hoder, 40, a New York City police officer who is married to a fellow city police officer. “We had everyone, we had a dunk tank, a water slide, face painting. Then they started buying them out.”
This summer’s block party was a small affair. But there were rides and treats for all. “We’re still trying to keep the morale up for the block,” Hoder said.
The auctioned houses must be brought up to code with a certificate of occupancy within three years of sale. Most buyers haven’t started construction, however, although one house is demolished, one is nearly finished, and a family has moved into a third across from an empty lot where a house caved in during a lift. Tides periodically cover this end of the road in salt water.
With the house raisings and construction, the street can get noisy during the day. But then the silence returns.
“It’s very, very quiet,” said Farley, who moved onto the block in 2007.
The vacant houses are better maintained now after complaints to the town, but homeowners said they’d become impatient with unmown grass, unhinged doors. They still check worriedly for anything amiss.
Eric Matzen, a 35-year-old plumber, bought a house privately on the block before the acquisitions began, “then the whole . . . block moved.” His wife, Ashley, 32, said there aren’t many occupied houses near them, and “We don’t feel safe.”
But, with five children, they like living on the dead-end street, and look forward to new neighbors. “The block’s going to come around,” Matzen, “but now, I had a friend stop by and he texted, ‘You’re right, your block is depressing.’ ”
Terry Mennella, a real estate agent, and her husband, John, moved into their house three weeks before Sandy. That house and one they were selling a few blocks away were flooded, and it took a year before they could repair and stop paying two mortgages.
Now she lives between a house that has been undergoing elevation since June and a vacant house given by New York Rising to the Long Island Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that supports affordable housing. She’d helped the couple that lived there find a condo farther east. “A lot of people saw it to their benefit,” she said, referring to the acquisition program, in which homeowners were offered pre-storm values to sell. “They were offered a lot of money to leave and I don’t blame them.”
The acquisition program was meant to get people out of their houses quickly if they couldn’t afford or couldn’t deal with the prolonged process of elevation and renovation, and get FEMA-compliant houses back on the tax roll. Purchasers are expected to invest their own money — or sell to someone else who will.
Debbie Maddalone, 52, divorced and working at Walmart, didn’t feel she could afford the full costs of elevation even with New York Rising’s help. So she sold to New York Rising and moved in next door, taking her two teenage children and dog, at the invitation of her neighbor Selina Hildebrandt, 56. Hildebrandt, who travels frequently as vice president for an electronics company, said the arrangement works for everyone.
“We get along great,” Hildebrandt said. “I call her my executive property manager. We were good neighbors and we’ve become best friends.”
Maddalone said she might move to Florida when her kids get out of high school. “That’s my idea, but I can’t say plan, because who knows what will happen,” she said.
From Hildebrandt’s front porch, Maddalone can lookinto her old house and see the message she left on a wall for the new buyers: “Hope you enjoy this house. There were a lot of good memories here. And bad ones.”
A community transformed
As on Surf Road, New Hampshire Street in Long Beach suffered severe flooding when Sandy hit. Here, residents like to say, the ocean met the bay, and the quaint bungalows lining narrow streets here were caught in the middle.
In the four years since the storm, these blocks have undergone a transformation.
Many families decided to stay; others sold and left. Streets here are still busy with construction as three- and four-story structures replace the bungalows, their neighborly front porches and patios replaced with street-level garages and decks above.
The figures from New York Rising tell the story: There are 19 houses in New York Rising housing recovery programs on the single block of New Hampshire Street between West Beech Street and West Park Avenue. Total money awarded: $1,896,095, of which $1,490,857 was for elevations. So far, $1,545,748 of the total has been paid out. That doesn’t include payments from insurance, FEMA money, Small Business Administration loans, and depleted retirement accounts.
The close-knit communities, where police, firefighters, nurses and construction workers enjoyed the breezes and nearby beaches since the early decades of the last century, are still friendly. But they’re not the same, say longtime residents.
“It’s different now,” said Mary Curley, a 65-year-old widow who has lived on the block since 1976. Looking down from her deck one story above street level, she said, “It used to be all the houses were low, and people sat out and you walked by and you said hello and talked to your neighbors.”
Now, she said: “If you sit out, you’re up in a private deck so there’s not so much interaction. . . . The whole block is a construction zone. Four years later and people are still waiting to get back into their houses.”
Her own house flooded and was rebuilt with insurance money and a Small Business Administration loan. A new house is nice, she said, but “I was happy in my old house. I wish I was still in it.”
Some of those in the elevated houses say they’re not bad, just different. But other older residents say they will take their chances and not elevate. Edward and Geraldine McArdle, both “over 75,” said they’d have too much trouble climbing a full flight of stairs to get in and out of the house.
Geraldine McArdle agreed with Curley that the new architecture and the high decks changed the small-town feel of the neighborhood. All the new driveways make street parking harder to find, and there are fewer block parties and impromptu gatherings, McArdle said. “Everyone is friendly,” she said, but “When you walk down the streets you don’t notice the people. . . . Even the people on the decks don’t talk to each other that much.”
The financial hit of Sandy recovery is affecting some more than others. John Meyer, 38, a New York City firefighter, and his wife Nikkia, 36, a nurse, have a 2-year-old son and a house they’ve owned since 2009. Meyer said that to rebuild, they took out an SBA loan similar to “a second mortgage” and were denied a New York Rising grant because it was deemed a duplication of benefits with the loan. “I would imagine a lot of people who’ll have to work longer now.” he said.
The McArdles said they have no complaints about the help they received, which included insurance, a FEMA payment and New York Rising reimbursements for their out-of-pocket expenditures.
Others say they are still waiting to resolve issues with New York Rising and start elevations, although activity on the block has accelerated in the last six months, residents say.
Some of the houses bought and restored by contractors have been rented out, including one to three 26-year-old men who grew up farther east on Long Island. Two of them spend every other month piloting ships out of Texas and California.
“We work a month on and a month off, so we live here in our month off,” said Kevin Kerr, who grew up in Oakdale and graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. “It’s a fun town on the beach, and everything is convenient.”
That’s always been true here, longtime residents say. Yet there’s a sense of rupture with decades of continuity after that October night four years ago.
Edward McArdle, who grew up in the West End of Long Beach, said, “The biggest cause of change in Long Beach was Sandy.”
New Hampshire Street between West Beech Street and West Park Avenue:
Total New York Rising cases: 19
Total award: $1,896,095
Elevation Award: $1,490,857
Paid Amount: $1,545,748