Guest op-ed:NYC’s Resiliency Scorecard Fails the Equity Test

By Councimember Mark Treyger & Councilmember Justin Brannan

Over seven years after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City’s coastal neighborhoods, outer borough coastal communities are still struggling to recover.

Superstorm Sandy caused $19 billion in property damages to New York City — and yet, our communities are still lacking a regional protection plan and proper funding to prepare for another natural disaster.

Southern Brooklyn, which includes the Coney Island peninsula, is home to some of the poorest and most vulnerable coastal neighborhoods, including many NYCHA developments that are still rebuilding. Resiliency projects must protect our entire city.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for Coney Island is $31,630, as opposed to $82,459 for Manhattanites.

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) issued a report in 2016, stating that Coney Island is facing as much as six feet of sea-level rise in the next century. The RPA concluded that resiliency planning efforts should prioritize the large number of low and moderate-income renters and homeowners in New York City coastal communities. 

The city funding allocated for resiliency projects highlights major geographic disparities. Lower Manhattan has received over $1 billion for 2.4 miles of coastal flood protection. By contrast, Southern Brooklyn has only received $32 million to elevate a few blocks of shoreline on the Coney Island peninsula.

If we are going to prepare for the negative effects of climate change — future natural disasters, sea level rise, storm flooding — it is critical that the city administration provide equitable funding and comprehensive resiliency plans for all vulnerable coastal communities, not just Manhattan. 

The consensus among city, state and federal agencies is that Brooklyn and Queens are the most vulnerable to future extreme weather and coastal flooding. It is critical that we plan to preserve our shoreline and quality of life for our coastal communities.

Nonetheless, the city administration prioritized a regional protection plan for Manhattan as its entry into the HUD Rebuild by Design Competition, securing $338 million in federal resources and adding $1.1 billion in city resources for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project.

Our city’s regional resiliency protection plans show a glaring equity gap, disproportionately impacting poor and working class neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn. 

What has the government done to improve resiliency in Southern Brooklyn thus far? There has been $7.2 million in federal funding for beach nourishment. That’s right, for our neighborhoods, the government allocated sand, much of which has already eroded off the Brighton Beach and Coney Island beach shores.

The federal government allocated an additional $25 million to restore and enhance an Army Corps t-groin, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation did commit $32 million to elevate a few blocks of shoreline along Coney Island Creek (supplemented with $15 million in federal funding).

While any investment is welcome, these piecemeal projects do not provide anywhere near the level of regional protection funded for lower Manhattan. 

We must also contend with a looming financial storm for working class families in the floodplain, as FEMA finalizes its new flood maps. These new maps will mandate thousands of additional households and small businesses to obtain flood insurance, potentially increasing annual expenses by thousands of dollars and displacing vulnerable families.

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reduces premiums if there are resiliency investments that meet their criteria for mitigation.

The $615 million Army Corps seawall project in Staten Island, and the East Side Coastal Resiliency project will both be built to FEMA flood insurance mitigation standards, protecting Staten Island and Lower Manhattan residents from financial, as well as physical, hazards. The Coney Island Creek raised shorelines project will not be, because of insufficient funding.

Where is the grand vision for Southern Brooklyn? We had to fight to be included in the Army Corps’ Rockaway-Jamaica Bay Draft Reformulation report for a regional protection plan for Eastern Brooklyn and Queens, but, the Southern Brooklyn components were excluded from the final report, again due to lack of funding.

We again fought to have these components moved into the Army Corps’ New York & New Jersey Harbors & Tributaries Study, which is not slated to be completed for years to come, and has no dedicated funding. 

As we have been feverishly lobbying our federal partners for funding, the city needs to step up and fund resiliency projects equitably. The scorecard is grim: There’s $1.1 billion in city money for miles of protection for Lower Manhattan — and only $32 million for limited protection for a few blocks in Southern Brooklyn.

The current administration ran on a campaign to end the tale of two cities, but the inequities in resiliency investments are frankly Dickensian. It’s time for the mayor’s rhetoric to turn into reality for neighborhoods like Coney Island, Canarsie and Sheepshead Bay. Our coastal communities don’t have the luxury of waiting another seven years.

Councimember Mark Treyger is the former chair of the Committee on Resiliency and Recovery and Councilmember Justin Brannan is the current chair of the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. 

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