Bystryn: Don’t let NYC be caught off-guard by another Sandy

Are we ready?

Sunday marks the beginning of the 2014 hurricane season, and the question looms: Are we ready? The climate crisis is upon us and every hurricane season offers potential for another disaster like superstorm Sandy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has done a commendable job of helping to heal our city after Sandy by making recommendations to improve the snail’s-pace Build it Back program (providing faster financial relief to homeowners and expanding eligibility for those seeking buyouts) and creating a special Office of Recovery and Resiliency, and using additional public resources to offer homeowners relief.

But 19 months after the storm, our city mostly continues to look backward. We must now look forward to the next storm, and de Blasio can lead the way by defining goals and priorities. He’s taken a few steps already but he must go further with a forward-looking climate adaptation strategy.

One approach is to enhance our social resiliency — the ability of our people, and not just our buildings, to adapt to this new world.

Sandy laid bare the critical issue of climate justice, showing the impact of extreme weather falls hardest on poor communities. Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit that supports affordable housing, estimates that 43 percent of New York and New Jersey households asking for federal aid after Sandy reported annual incomes of less than $30,000 — barely enough to cover the average yearly cost of rent. Moreover, floodwaters from the storm damaged more than 35,000 of NYC’s public housing units.

By delivering a plan that addresses equity gaps like these, de Blasio can help ensure NYC’s most vulnerable communities are prepared for extreme weather.

The city’s capital plan offers another avenue for preparedness. The city spent an average of $9.5 billion on infrastructure in each of the last five years — and these funds must now serve the dual purpose of resiliency by taking a changing climate into consideration when planning in addition to making sure roads, bridges, schools and parks are in a good state of repair.

It’s time for NYC to show how smart planning today will lead to a better tomorrow. De Blasio must deliver his own comprehensive plan that will make sure NYC is prepared for the extreme weather in the future.

Marcia Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group.

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