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Interview with mold remediation volunteer

Superstorm Sandy's aftermath 6 months later

Interview with volunteer for mold remediation
Interviewer: Lisa Ng
4/1/2013

Q:            So, I guess to get things started, if you could just briefly tell me about like your experience with Sandy and like what you’re role was, how you were affected.

A:            Okay, yeah.  We, I wasn’t personally affected by Sandy because I live in this neighborhood, Fort Greene and we’re on a pretty big hill.  First of all, there was some strong winds.  At one point I had walked to the Pratt Campus, which is about three blocks that way to grab something from work, as the storm was starting, which I guess was Monday, if I’m not mistaken.  And I was walking through the campus and there was a lot of trees and things like that there.  It was kind of when I realized things might be getting serious because all of the maintenance people who were, and the security people who were walking around the campus were all wearing hard hats and I was just kind of, I had like an umbrella [crosstalk 1:01].  Yeah.  So, I was pretty like casual about all of that and then after that I had been walking around the neighborhood just to see what was going on.

And so, I wound up coming back, going back to my house and that’s when I sort of started getting nervous.  I started listening to what was going on in terms of what the city was saying and my boyfriend was in Vermont visiting his family with a friend of ours who was staying with us for a while.  And, you know, I started calling him and being like, okay well they say they’re going to close the bridges soon and they say that they’re going, you know, the subways are shutting down and so it might be getting serious, and like worrying about their way home.  But anyway, so as the storm happened, again like we were able to actually be outside here and kind of walk around and it was, there were some times when interestingly enough we didn’t even really need an umbrella, like it just wasn’t raining that hard here.  But I guess that was kind of what was happening all over the place ’cause it was really the surge that was damaging to people.  And so, I was probably like the only person in the world who had to work the day after the storm because I lived three or four blocks from where I work and so there’s, I can’t really call in because there’s no transportation or something.

And so, I wound up working and I wound up adminning a site, like I don’t know if maybe people have talked about like in Astoria recover site and a Redhook recover site and a Lower East Side recover site, but they were websites that popped up through, I think it’s recovers.org has kind of like an online platform for meeting needs and resources.  And I wound up adminning that site and getting kind of an idea of like what was and was not going on on the ground and what it seemed like to me was that there were a considerable number of people helping with getting transportation of goods and supplies and things like that down to affected areas but that some bigger equipment was really missing.  Like you couldn’t buy a generator within, we tried to buy a generator, we called stores within like 200 miles of New York and couldn’t find one anywhere or water pumps and if we did find them, they were like the price gouging would have definitely made it out of reach for anybody who’s like a middle or working class person.

So, we have – I had some experience doing disaster relief when I was in Haiti, my boyfriend, the same.  We had some friends who we met down there who were kind of nearby, they were in Vermont.  But our friends who were in Vermont called and said, how bad is it?  Is there work for us to do?  And do you guys need anything ’cause we can come down tomorrow.  And so, we asked them to bring down generators and water pumps and they were able basically to bring gas powered water pumps and we – my boyfriend and my friend went down there the day after the storm and it was still, you know, when some of the stores on Rockaway Beach Boulevard were still on fire, and you know, they kind of reported back with how serious the damage was and the next day our friends showed up with the water pumps and we have a 15’ cargo van ’cause my boyfriend also is a construction worker and electrician, and so we put a giant sign on the side of the cargo van that said that we had pumps.  And that we would pump out, you know, people were like how much does it cost because some people apparently were charging like $1,200 to pump out a, I mean, there were people who were definitely profiting off what had happened.  But, you know, so we had to explain that we could do it for free and we had to explain that like we needed homeowner permission ’cause it’s, like it can, there are some complications and stuff like that.  So anyway, that’s how we got started and because of the kind of work we were both doing and because of the transportation situation for like the first week or two we really didn’t have to go to work because I would – we were both working in an art handling office but a lot of placed had flooded or didn’t have power for a while and were kind of getting back on their feet after the storm and so there was a little bit of lapse where they didn’t like really need us but we wound up not going back to work because, just the work wasn’t really done.

Q:            Sorry, just to clarify work in terms of –

A:            We both had jobs at an art handling company, where our full-time jobs and so before the storm but we never went back to them.

Q:            Okay.

A:            After the storm.  I did keep my part-time job at Pratt just a few hours a week because it’s very flexible but we just wound up doing disaster relief stuff full-time.  And –

Q:            And that’s what you focus on now, just that?

A:            Yeah.

Q:            Okay.

A:            So, now we’ve kind of started an organization out of it.  At first we were working just through Occupy Sandy and we were kind of coordinating volunteers that they brought down and we were meeting at their space and kind of having a mini-office in the church that they were running out of.  And we, you know, it was fine to work with Occupy Sandy but at the same time we didn’t really know how long it would last but we knew, we saw pretty quickly that the recovery was going to take a long time and so we were afraid that if Occupy Sandy turned out to be like a more short lived.  Let’s say they did like work for two months and then just handed over money to like community organizations or something, then we would have done like a couple months of a certain kind of work and developed a good trusting relationship with the community but not really had a name.  Do you know what I mean?  That people recognized and so we developed our own name and kind of our own group and I guess now a fledgling organization out of that.

Q:            And what is it called?

A:            It’s called XXXX.

Q:            XXXX.

A:            Um-huh (yes).  And that was, we just kind of, we made it something fast.  We came up with it and, you know, that way we could kind of have our own media and our own website and like specifically talk about what we needed.  Specifically get donations that were directed toward us that we could get immediately instead of buying stuff all the time and going through the consensus based system to get reimbursed or however it was working.  And something else that we – so very early on we first realized that there were like literally thousands of volunteers just coming down whether through Occupy Sandy or just completely on their own, just like coming down in a car like and bringing maybe mops or like cleaning products and going to help people clean out their homes.  But a lot of the homes were really like disaster zones and there was no one doing any kind of site safety checks and so the first thing we tried to do was go into homes before random volunteers went into them so that we could just make sure there were no oil spills, there was no natural gas fumes, there were no serious hazards beyond what you would normally see with water damage and just kind of  build a relationship with the homeowner so that, you know, they weren’t in a situation where somebody came in and did half the job but then the volunteers weren’t coming back the next day and so leaving them hang – like there was a system and we just, you know, very quickly started keeping track of who we were working for, what they needed, what the sites were like, if there were any hazards, if the stairs were broken, you know.  And then since we had our relationship with Occupy Sandy as well as our own vehicle, we would keep the tools that we needed to use to give the volunteers to do the work like in the vehicle or in the distribution site.  And then we noticed that nobody knew what to do about mold and that since like this area has really been spared a lot of extreme weather in the recent past.  People just didn’t really – people didn’t know what it was going to be like.  We knew that mold was going to grow.  We knew a little bit, we knew that we couldn’t use bleach to get rid of it.  We knew people who had done that kind of work after Katrina and we kind of knew what needed to happen and we knew that we could just see that nobody else really knew, you know.  And so, that became our focus right away just because that’s actually a really serious public health issue and, you know, can really degrade the structural integrity of a home.

Q:            So, you focused mostly on the – where did you focus on, which area?

A:            We worked really specifically in the Rockaways.  We’ve done some trainings for people to teach them about like effective and accessible methods of mold remediation and other areas.  But logistically it was, you know, we thought about expanding into Staten Island and, you know, Coney Island and stuff but transportation wise and just, you know, it took us a while to get enough of the big ticket equipment to really be operating on a wide scale.  We’re still not operating on that wide of a scale but in the beginning like the houses were so wet they really need this like really expensive industrial dehumidifier to dry out enough to make mold remediation worth it and they cost like $2,500 and we were trying to get them in kind and we were trying to get money donated for them but it was, you know, they were coming – they came kind of slowly.  Some stuff came quickly but basically because the transportation logistics and then supplies it made a lot more sense for us to operate in a smaller area.  And so we chose the Rockaway.  We initially would work anywhere in the Rockaways.  But also pretty quickly realized that people west of 116th Street, with obvious exceptions like retirees and, you know, there are some exceptions but there’s a pretty big class difference between Rockaway west of 116 and Rockaway east of 116.  And, you know, I think the medium income in Bell Harbor or Neponsit, which are west of that spot, are closer to like $70,000 or something a year and the area that our office is in, which is the Arverne area, it’s in the 70’s, the medium income is like $29,000 a year.  So, we –

Q:            Big difference.

A:            Yeah.  And in the very early days we didn’t really care that much who we worked for.  Everybody was in shock.  People were pretty traumatized and it hit really hard.  But as time went on we just realized that people up there had resources that that’s where a lot of the sort of more established NGOs were basing their operations out of Bell Harbor and that we were much more needed, you know, east of there.  And also, we just realized that, I mean, none of us necessarily grew up wanting to be mold remediators.  It’s like, you know, but we kind of quickly identified that as something that was likely to displace people because remediating mold in the proper way for even like a modest size house can cost between like $8,000 and $15,000 and the average, A) I don’ t think the average American has that much money put in the bank but certainly not the average person with a median, you know, in a neighborhood with a median income of $29,000 a year.   And we were afraid that either people would try to rebuild while skipping that step or that people just wouldn’t be able to rebuild and that the lack of access to mold remediation could be a big factor in displacement and so that’s basically where we put our effort.

Q:            So, you said some of the major problems that you’ve discovered in Hurricane Sandy, is there any other, you know, obviously mold is one of the issues, any other like major main problems that rose from Sandy?

A:            I mean, obviously there was just a huge amount of displacement even relatively recently.  Time, it’s hard to judge time since the storm ’cause sometimes it feels like years ago to me and sometimes something will have happened last week and I feel like it was like three weeks ago ’cause there’s, particularly in the beginning, like there were really long days.  We worked all the time.  But you know, I think that – obviously infrastructure.  People, there was just, you know, having no power, having no heat, having no electricity, knowing that your meters not going to be restored for the indefinite future, I was very surprised to see that there was really no plan for that.  I was surprised to see that, you know, up – I think, you know, as recently as like six weeks ago I think still the figure was that 1/5th of Rockaway residents were still not living at home.  And they were still either with family, friends, a hotel, or a rental apartment.  That’s a lot.  Rockaway has 133,000 people.  And that’s over 20,000 people displaced, you know, three or four months after the storm.  Also, you know, Far Rockaway didn’t get as visibly hit as Bell Harbor.  The damage was a lot more cut, like it was a lot more photogenic in Bell Harbor.  In part because the houses, I mean, it was hit really hard, the houses are bigger, they, you know, there was more to be seen in terms of damage but the people in Rockaway, Far Rockaway really the damage, any damage just was so traumatic because people are living on less money.  You know, and so that being true really exposed like a pre-existing lack of resources and sort of a pre-existing, I guess being situation on the periphery A) of New York, very geographically and, you know, even if you’ve ridden your bike down to Fort Tilden or like some of the things that a lot of people seem to do now, like young people who are transplants to New York, you probably haven’t been to Far Rockaway, right.  Like you’ve probably been to – most people have been like to Jacob Riis Park or they’ve been to Fort Tilden or they know that area a little bit but not the residential areas.  And so, it just, you know, besides just being on the geographic periphery, it just seems like it’s been for a long time on the periphery of like the mind of the city because there was so many resources lacking already.  You know, when I’ve talked to some people who live in NYCHA housing and the Rockaways about mold they’re like, what are you talking about?  We’ve had this for years.  This isn’t new.  Even though their apartments were flooded, that’s just something they always dealt with anyway.  Not that that is probably that different in other NYCHA housing but, you know, transportation has always been lacking and certain types of infrastructure have always been lacking.  There is kind of a dearth of businesses for people to go to and a lot of people go to Long Island or the box stores, big box stores in Brooklyn to go shopping and there’s certainly a huge problem with jobs and, you know, and I think in some areas it really affects people that they’re – transportation is lacking and it takes an hour and a half to get to where they work in Manhattan so that’s three hours a day they’re not spending in the Rockaways and that’s three hours a day that they’re not spending like maybe being part of a community organization or, you know, doing things that would kind of be a part of the sort of social capital chain, you know, that leads to different kinds of civic involvement that leads to having different kinds of power and, you know, I just think you see that entire web of issues play out on a day-to-day basis.

Q:            So, you were saying earlier that, you know, the lack of response – who do you think – not necessarily who do you think is to blame but, like where do you think the problem stemmed from?

A:            I think there are a lot of issues.  One is that I think the way that the Red Cross is structured is that people are – people take on two week shifts and there are people from all over the country.  And what I’ve heard is that most people actually will extend their stay and stay a little bit longer but what it still means is that there’s a constant influx of kind of out of towners who are coming in who don’t really know the city, who don’t really know the landscape, who don’t really know transportation, and who, you know, frankly haven’t really been in like urban areas with a really diverse population before and so I think that people – I think people in Red Cross kind of didn’t know how to get around.  I think they didn’t know what to expect.  I think that they didn’t really know, you know, I’ve lived in New York for half of my life at this point so like – almost half of my life, 15 years.  And so I’ve been in NYCHA buildings, I know that they’re shitty.  I know that they smell like piss in the hallway.  I think, you know, and so I’ve heard of some like American Red Cross people going in and being like oh my god, the hallway, it smells.  And people are like, no that’s not the problem.  Like the problem is that the people on the 19th floor haven’t been able to get downstairs in a month, you know.  And I think that it’s interesting that volunteers were not sourced locally.  I think also it’s an issue that you just have a lot of kind of like smaller town, middle American people just flowing into the city because they’re a part of sort of the disaster relieve industry and, you know, I heard, I didn’t really spend a lot of time in Red Hook, a little bit, but I heard that in the beginning there was really a situation where everyone, like the people from Red Cross – sorry the Red Hook houses – and the people who had come to volunteer were working together to do distribution sites and they were working together on making sure people had food and they’re working together on canvassing the neighborhood to make sure people had what they needed and that when different disaster response sort of industry people came in, all of a sudden there was this new separation between the helpers and the helpees and some called in security because they, you know, probably have only seen large groups of black people in the movies and they’re like, you know what I mean?  And like felt unsafe in places near the projects and, you know, even when we were first working in Rockaway Park we had a lot of people warn us like, oh don’t go down there, people are looting, people have guns, people, you know, and then when we actually – we wound up being concentrated near the first Occupy Sandy distribution center for a while at 113th Street kind of down from like 90’s to maybe 116th but then when we actually, a couple days later wound up going down to those sites, we’ve never felt like our personal safety was threatened, you know.  We’ve felt like there’s a lot of families who are having a really fucking hard time and who are really like happy to see anybody show up.  I also think that, I think that help with, I mean, obviously Breezy got a lot of assistance because of being fireman, because of being cops, because of being civil servants and there being a network, I mean, I think 1,000 people came in from Ireland to help, you know, because it’s so heavily Irish and then Bell Harbor, same thing.  And they have the whole disaster relief operation staged out of there with like Team Rubicon and the Mormons and everybody was centered there and then you started having people particularly more grass roots people and then other people kind of focused more on Far Rockaway but then you really had Edgemere and Arverne, which are in the middle of all the – were not really on people’s radar, you know.  And so between like 38th Street and 113th for a long time wasn’t like a more grass rootsy operation to go to, which I think was important.

Q:            Yeah, that’s really true.  People don’t realize, like community is a huge thing, I think, in something like responding and there are a lot of communities I know that didn’t have the community to begin with and so in responding they weren’t able to get the help that they needed because of that.

A:            Yeah.

Q:            I have friends who were in Coney Island and so obviously Coney Island has a lot of, I guess, more like Russian population and other ethnicity but like I have friends who are more, you know, Asians and most Asians cluster around, you know, like Chinatown area or like Flushing area.

A:            Yeah.

Q:            But you know, people who don’t have the community but are kind of in Coney Island weren’t able to get that community sense, like didn’t know what was going on, how to get assistance, or anything like that.

A:            Yeah.  I taught a mold class a few months ago in Coney Island and I got there a little bit early and I remember thinking maybe I’d go get a glass of, like a bottle of water or something and I walked outside and they’re just, I had no idea what direction to even go to because you couldn’t see a store.  I don’t remember the address that I was at but like you just couldn’t see a store for blocks and I just didn’t even know where to go and so it just seems a little bit difficult if there aren’t those kind of outlets to gather around, you know.  Like how do people gather to take care of their own community?  And not that it doesn’t happen and I think it really does, like Far Rockaway I think that a lot of people were active in helping their community.  Like one of the groups with more publicity was Rockaway Youth Task Force, but I think also there were PTA’s, there were pre-existing groups that are focused on health and like food justice and community gardens.  And people who just ran ad hoc, you know, distribution sites out of their area but I think again, because that area’s been ignored a lot, like I think that the efforts of the local people there were really ignored with the exception of some more visible places or places that were made more visible for various reasons like the Action Center, which is on 57th Street I believe, 57th, 59th, which did get a lot of publicity and who, you know, the women who runs it is very, very active and that’s why.

Q:            Yeah.  I mean, I think you kind of covered this but I may as well just ask it anyway.  Like how do you think your experience was like similar or different than all others?

A:            I think my experience was a little bit different than others in part because I had had some kind of training in disaster relief before or had the experience of doing that.  And you know, it’s hard because if you do have some kind of training in disaster relief like you’re not supposed to cry like when you’re talking to people, which is kind of funny ’cause the only time, I feel like we’ve been so busy, the only time I’ve actually wanted to cry is when I’ve been talking to reporters or talking to people who are asking me questions about things.

Q:            I’m sorry.

A:            No, it’s okay.  You know, it’s fine ’cause it’s just like, I actually –

Q:            I mean – it’s emotional.

A:            Yeah, it’s a very emotional thing and then in the beginning a lot of people just didn’t understand what it meant, like when we came and said we could help you clean out your house, they didn’t really know what that meant.  Like they didn’t know we were going to throw away all their Easter decorations and all their Christmas decorations and like pretty much everything they had because there just wasn’t, you know, there’s some big ticket equipment that you could probably have to dry all that stuff out if you could do that right away but there was no power, there was no, you know, you weren’t going to do that with very, very few exceptions.  And people didn’t know that you were going to gut their whole house.  And they didn’t know that we had to gut two feet above the flood line, you know, and so I think that was a little bit different because we were going in door to door at first into people’s homes and just putting our phone numbers up on pieces of paper around the neighborhood and getting – being the first person people called and particularly like in Rockaway Park, I always think of the first family that we pumped out their home.  It was a retired cop and then like a union guy who does security stuff also and even the experience of receiving charity or receiving help for them was really traumatic because it’s just not something they’ve ever done.  In this case, this woman’s family – she grew up in the peninsula.  She lives in a house that her family has owned for 60 years.  She’s one of twelve siblings in like a really big Irish family and they’re known all over the peninsula and they fund things.  They like fund the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  They support different local causes and all of a sudden they just didn’t know what to do and I think particularly for her because she was, you know, she worked with the government for 20 years, I mean, she was a cop for a long time and she just felt really abandoned and like it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit difficult to sit through someone having that experience for the first time.  And it’s difficult, you know, to have to tell someone like you might want to walk away when we’re doing this ’cause we’re about to rip apart your home and stuff and so, you know, it’s fine, like it’s –

Q:            That’s alright.

A:            I just feel bad for you that it makes me feel emotional but it’s not like I’m particularly upset but it’s – but I think when you’re doing this work you just go and go and go and so you don’t stop to think about like how intense the stuff that you experience on a daily basis is.  I also think like we had a really different experience like I remember getting a few random rides down to the Rockaways form the different church hubs that were around here actually from Occupy Sandy and people were saying things like, oh it doesn’t look very bad at all and then like once, you know, we were the people who were like shoveling out the street because there was so much sand and we were the people flagging down sanitation workers so we could get garbage out from, you know, like – I think that, you know, going down – people who went down like a month or so after the storm were like, oh it wasn’t that bad.  Like they didn’t – they weren’t with the people who were experiencing shock, you know.  I also think it’s a little different because I have studied like humanitarian relief and disaster relief and like the political economy of disaster relief a little bit and so, you know, I think where some people might see like, oh look there’s all these different organizations who have come to help and here’s Habitat and here’s the Mormons and here’s Team Rubicon.  I don’t know, I wind up seeing more like there is fucking so much money being funneled into this shit right now and not a single Rockaway resident is benefiting from that, you know, so I feel like I wind up in a state of being irate constantly about the fact that this could be done so much better and benefit the community in such a more sustainable way than just shuttling in volunteers and, you know, everybody having a feel good time.

Q:            Right.  Yeah, I think funding is a really tricky thing.  It’s just the way that it works, the way that groups work and just – it’s, yes, it’s a tricky thing.

A:            Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if you saw over the weekend or if you’re completely burnt out from all Sandy all the time, but over the weekend there was one article in the New York Times that basically broke down the whole thing with like 900 families are still in hotels that are FEMA paid for, you know, and some of them are shitty and seedy and all of them are kind of uncomfortable because they don’t have kitchens, they don’t have, you know, any of the normal things a house has.  But FEMA is spending, you know, so the federal government is spending an average of $250 a night for these hotels.  That’s like $7,000 something a month.  I mean, you can get – we’re renting a five bedroom apartment in the Rockaways for $1,800.  You know, you can fit very comfortably a family of four or five in that apartment, two bathrooms, a patio, you know.  And the fact that you would spend, you know, first of all that you had to wait for everything to be voted on and maybe this isn’t going to pass, maybe this is and – but yeah, I understand why people, I mean, kind of hate to admit it but I kind of understand why like the right wing like anti-government whatever people are kind of like this is ridiculous because it is because everything is done in like the most inefficient bureaucratic and possibly useless way possible.  Then in the same day, or the next day, the Wall Street Journal, you know that was New York Times, and then the Wall Street Journal has some story about how FEMA is going to transition people into market rate apartments.  And with, you know, and so like why, I don’t know, I do know things take a lot more time than you think they’re going to but this is a little bit ridiculous at this point.  I mean, five months in a hotel at LaGuardia Airport versus one month in a hotel at LaGuardia Airport and then, you know, an apartment as close to your kid’s school as possible.

Q:            Right, yeah.  Apparently, I don’t know if you know this but Governor Como has decided that – I think this is for the Coney Island area, but I could be wrong on this, but basically he’s planned to buy out all the homes that are affected and then – I’m a little hazy on the details but basically he wants to buy out the homes that are affected and then, make it inhabitable but I’m not sure.

A:            Yeah.

Q:            He has this whole plan of doing something.

A:            I mean, I thought that was really strange too and I guess this is something else, I don’t remember which question you asked that I felt like maybe this made sense in, but yeah, so at the same time you have Governor Como talking about a buyout plan for coastal areas because like I think that, well this may have changed because I never expected this to last very long anyway but apparently something like $400 million that would be used to buyout people in really high risk coastal areas that quote-unquote, what he said I think verbatim was “places that really mother nature owns” and that people shouldn’t really live and that after those buildings were purchased that they would be returned to marshland.

Q:            Yeah, yeah.

A:            Which first of all I don’t trust because it’s, you know, you can develop those, you just have to be a multi-millionaire not like a working class family like how is, who are the people like living in Rockaway Park or, you know, Arverne or something.  Second of all, I thought it was really strange that there was such mixed messaging because on the one hand you have the governor saying maybe people shouldn’t live in these areas and on the other hand you have millions and millions of dollars being pumped into rapid repairs, which is like taking, you know, putting people’s electrical panel exactly where it was before.  Putting people’s boiler exactly where it was before, which A) is going to affect them in terms of their insurance because if you have a boiler and water hear or electrical panel, things like that in your basement floor, then that counts as your first livable area and so if the flood, like the advisory base flood elevations are being raised to like 10 to 12 to 14 feet then you’re actually going to be below, like you’re going to be below even sea level.  Like let’s say your house is at five feet and you would normally, you know, and so on the one hand you have the governor saying maybe people never should have lived here to begin with and we’ll return it to park land and then you have the mayor just funneling money into doing everything the same way it was done before.  And I thought that that was a really – two things, one is that that’s just, everybody wants to talk about resiliency and that’s a really not resilient way to rebuild.  Second of all, it’s just really mixed messaging about what the city and the state and the coastline is going to do with rising sea waters with more frequent extreme storms.  And you know, now homeowners are going to have to pay themselves, it seems like, and there’s going to be some grants and things like that but it’s a little hard to tell but to raise their boilers, to raise their, you know, all those things maybe up to their first floor or whatever they decide to do or elevate their homes.  But it just seems so wasteful that, you know, millions and millions of dollars are put into just quick fixed that really –

Q:            Aren’t really –

A:            — that could flood again next summer.  You know, with a storm 1/5th as bad as Sandy.

Q:            Do you think the storm has caused you to think more, like experience, like New York City in a different way?

A:            I don’t know, I mean, I also in some way think I’m almost a bad person to ask about this because of like my academic background in kind of studying race and class in New York and studying sort of politics, urban politics in New York City and things like that.  And so, I think that like because of sort of having a political sociology sort of background and the urban geography background I think that my pre-existing knowledge of inequality and things like that in New York City was different than a lot of people’s were.  I think a lot of people who haven’t been in NYCHA housing for instance, you know, and I come from probably a different background than most, like Occupy Sandy or like regular, you know, spring break volunteers coming down because my family also like is lives definitely below the poverty line and, you know, the family I grew up in and so I think that there were a lot of things that didn’t really shock me that would shock a lot of people.  But it was, you know, living in Fort Green, I live above like a bagel store and like fancy pet food store and a fancy dress shop and there’s like a few places that have brunch all on one block and then, you know, we’re going down to the Rockaways every day.  I don’t think we showered for like a week, you know, ’cause we were just like literally every minute we were awake we were just doing something.  We were dealing with something.  We were trying to get gas.  We were trying to find the illegal ways to get gas ’cause there was no gas.  And you know, whatever but then we would go down – like I was, the first time I took a day off it was maybe like 13 or 14 days in and there were just people bitching about like the line for brunch or like, you know, whether or not there was room to bring their stroller into the restaurant and stuff and other people were like changing out the $300 dress on the mannequin in the window of this shop and just going about their lives completely normally while like this other part of town kind of reminded me of Haiti ’cause like every street was just lined with rubble and like people had this like kind of vacant look in their eye ’cause they were so traumatized, you know.

Q:            Yeah.

A:            And so, I don’t know.  It definitely exacerbated things but it also I guess, one other thing about that was as much as I shouldn’t have been, I was really shocked.  Like you know, I – people say that in Haiti all the money that was donated for the earthquake there, out of all that 8 cents on every dollar stayed in Haiti because the infrastructure to produce and manufacture the things that were needed for reconstruction really weren’t there.  And that just so much of the help came from outside of the country, you know.  And so, okay that makes sense for Haiti maybe, right.  There’s not like a robust manufacturing sector, there’s not a Haitian like non-profit infrastructure and there’s not really a Haitian administrative infrastructure at that time either ’cause everything was gone.  And then in New Orleans some people say like 18 cents on the aid dollar stayed in New Orleans.  Then you can maybe argue that just so much of New Orleans was destroyed and so many people left that the infrastructure for that wasn’t there either, but then in New York none of that was really true, you know, because the storm didn’t , you know, didn’t affect like the infrastructure of those things that much and I think that a lot of things could be getting done in the community level that aren’t and, I don’t know, I mean, again with like the mayor that we have and the way things work and the way disaster relief works in a lot of ways that’s not that surprising but I did think it would be a little different than it is, like than it is now, you know.

Q:            So, you thought it would have – it would have been better, it should have been better, basically?

A:            Yeah, and I thought that there would be more demand to keep, to have it more like New Yorker controlled process than it is.

Q:            So, you think – so you’re saying that basically – so New Yorkers themselves are not necessarily in control right now but more the city or, like the government, like the state government sort of?  Or were you thinking more along the lines of –

A:            Yeah, I mean, even like if you look at – there’s tons of private aid money, you know, that goes into different foundations like Robin Hood or like any number of foundations but a lot of times that, you know, there are, you know, there’s a considerable amount of that money that goes to pre-existing non-profits or community groups in New York, but a lot of it is groups that this is what they do.  They come in and they start a project, you know, they do a disaster relief project and because we have, I mean, we have tons of union workers here.  We have out of work construction workers here.  We have a lot of affordable housing or housing related – housing focused non-profits.  It seems like that money could be being administered by New York based, like that money could be given to New York based non-profits and New York based entities to then distribute among New Yorkers but instead it just seems like there’s so much money that goes into funding some like, you know, whether it’s Red Cross, whether it’s, I don’t know.  Like for instance, I was hearing that $10 million were given – yeah, FEMA was given $10 million or had $10 million that they could use for case management to kind of work through like the so the neediest people kind of weren’t falling through the cracks as much.  But FEMA doesn’t do case management so they hire on Catholic Charities to do case management who then needs to have space and administration to do case management and pay people to administer the case management but they’re not doing any, they’re hiring further sort of subcontractors and they are, you know, they hire non-groups like the Met Council or like other people but then, do you know what I mean, like it goes through –

Q:            By the time that it like –

A:            Yeah.

Q:            Yeah.

A:            And I’ve heard from kind of professional disaster relief people and I have no way of looking this up or anything that every time money changes hands in that way, or like kind of goes down the ladder, that 18% is usually taken off the top for administrative and like just for, you know, for creating infrastructure for that program and the inefficiency really seems unnecessary.  Again, because there’s just so many groups that already exist here, it’s you know, it’s – this isn’t a third world country.  You know what I mean?

Q:            Yeah.

A:            New York prides itself on having the best and the brightest of everyone and so it’s just interesting that, I don’t know.  Like right now in all of the affected areas, long term recovery groups or long term recovery organizations are sprouting up and they’re basically something that happens any time.  You can Google long term recovery organizations like that existed after Katrina and as soon as those start, that gives certain non-profits like who are from all over the country or certain NGO’s, volunteer based groups who as soon as there is an LTRO, they kind of come because they can work, they’ve worked with LTROs before.  They have a track record and they’ll say like, oh we’ll come and do your canvassing and we’ll use local volunteers so it’s going to be participatory but it’s like, you know, you look at their questionnaires and it’s asking – there’s just, it’s not really suited to this particular place and it’s not really suited to this particular disaster but along the road somewhere there’s like private foundation money going into shipping in like this Christian group from middle America to do canvassing in Far Rockaway when something like 35 % of people between the ages of like 16 and 25 are unemployed in Far Rockaway and would probably love, you know, if you take all the money that those people are spending to come here and who’s getting paid to administer that, like you can actually hire local people and have that, you know, have that be a sustainable and kind of like holistic part of the strengthening of that community and it just, you know, really quickly starts seeming like that’s not any one’s goal.  You know, it’s the stated goal of lots of different organization’s mission statements but when everything that they’re doing, you know, and that’s a difficult thing about disaster relief because anything that, you know, whatever you’re doing at the moment, chances are it seems really great whether it’s like you’re rebuilding a school, you’re you know, doing whatever you do.  You know, you’re doing mold remediation on people’s houses but the minute you take a couple steps back and change your perspective, there’s lots of problems like, oh like when we were in Haiti and we were rebuilding schools and we, you know, our room and board was paid for, which cost like I think, it was pretty cheap but it still cost the organization like $13 or $15 a day or something.  And the – like a Haitian person doing the same kind of labor we were doing would average making something like $5 a day and that was a pretty decent wage.  So, they’re spending three times the money that they would spend on paying Haitians to do what we were doing.

Q:            Yeah.

A:            And it’s just interesting ’cause the same concept is really in play here.

Q:            Why do you think that is?

A:             I don’t know, I mean, I think it’s in part because there’s a non-profit and disaster relief industry that needs to sustain itself and not even just necessarily in any kind of like malicious way but they, you know, it’s worth it – like I think, I mean, I don’t know if it’s even worth me saying this on this, in this forum, but like there’s an organization called XXXX that has been doing mold suppression for months.  There’s no such thing as mold suppression and what they were doing for a really long time was just spraying bleach, which is actually doing more harm than good because often the homeowners don’t know that that doesn’t work.  And so they kind of have a false sense of security and it makes the mold on the outside go away for a little while.  It makes it look like you could rebuild and it leaves toxic fumes of bleach in the air and there’s a lot of like over the counter sort of Home Depot mold remediation things that have ammonia, which when mixed with bleach also releases some pretty toxic chemicals.  And the thing is, like XXXX has known that they were not tackling the mold problem for a really long time but they wanted to put mold in their grant proposals to get more money.  And just seeing that kind of stuff happen, particularly in your hometown, you know what I mean, and like the place that you live is really, really maddening.  Sorry, I feel like I’m talking a long time for each of the questions.

Q:            No, no this is great.  It’s really great.  It’s a lot of information that, you know, could really use and it’s great.  And it’s different from like a lot of different interviews.  It’s different because like, you know, you’re a responder, like you actually have gone into these homes and like actually done work, like physical work versus sitting behind a desk and doing other things, you know.

A:            Yeah.

Q:            So, it’s different.  It’s a different perspective, and it’s like an eye opening perspective as well.  So, sorry I wanted to – I don’t want to keep you too long.  I just – I was trying to prioritize my questioning.

A:            Go ahead.

Q:            What affected you the most during your time while responding to the storm?

A:            I don’t know.  It’s kind of hard to say.  I think, you know, I think one thing that happens is it’s really easy for me to compare this situation that a lot of people are in, you know, particularly like in neighborhoods like this where there’s kind of a large transient, at least upper-middle class, whatever population.  I think that they are – there are, I think that poor people or working class people are like a really abstract concepts, do you know what I mean?  And I think that that’s different for me and I think that it’s difficult to – I think it’s difficult to see, to feel powerless about the way things are going and the way things could go and how much money is being sort of wasted and how much money is going into just doing things the way things always get done in a disaster.  You know what I mean?  And it’s also really hard like you – in doing this kind of work, if you’re doing it like on the scale that we’re doing it, or if you’re doing it, if you’re trying to increase the scale that you’re doing it on, at some point you do have to have a pretty kind of business-like attitude about it but it’s really difficult because each case really seems like a high priority case.  Like it was kind of hard in the beginning because people would go canvassing, like people from Occupy Sandy who we knew and they would go canvassing and say, “oh my god I came across this really horrible situation, you guys have to help her right away.  She should get moved to the top of the list” and like you feel like of like a heartless person being like, well that’s only like the tenth single mother with like, you know, living in a moldy home with two babies with asthma that I’ve seen this week.  You know, and so it’s a really frustrating thing to like know this is going on.  To know that it’s really acute.  To know that, you know, and not really being able to speed up what you’re doing and not necessarily being able to scale what you’re doing and I think that there’s, you know, there’s always sort of the question of like do I do the kind of things I need to do to scale what I’m doing, which is to like seek foundation funding.  To seek various types of funding or like do I do things in a more grass roots way that will allow me to like have no rules about who, you know what I mean, and like make my own rules up so I can be really flexible and like help these people first if that’s what’s happening and stuff like that.

Q:            How does like, you know, do you work with Occupy Sandy but now that you also have your own group.  So, how have your group and I guess have your organization basically worked with other organizations?

A:            Yeah, I mean, I think that –

Q:            Or like volunteer groups, or government agencies.

A:            Yeah.  Well it’s been interesting because I feel like we’ve really wanted to collaborate with different groups a lot but then like Team Rubicon and the sort of original groups who got there like the Mormons, Team Rubicon, I don’t know, I can’t think of the other people right now, but like specifically Team Rubicon, you know, for a long time just like we were getting jobs faster than we could really do jobs, especially you know, and so we wanted to sort of share work orders with them and just so that people that we had kind of come in contact with and put on our list didn’t have to wait like such a long cue and maybe they could get served faster.  But there were a lot of power imbalance because we were considered unaffiliated or they knew about our relationship with Occupy or we were just new and they didn’t trust that we knew what we were doing and so they would have these kind of, “oh well you can give us all of your data and then we’ll give the jobs back to you.”  Like we’ll give the work orders back to you, which kind of didn’t make sense and we didn’t know how they were going to prioritize them and we didn’t really know if we were going to have a say in how they were prioritized and we didn’t really know to what degree like our role, like we didn’t know if we were going to get squeezed out of that, you know.  And then like working with Occupy Sandy has been pretty much fine.  You know, I have my own criticisms of kind of becoming a non-profit and working within that system because I think there are definitely limitations but at the same time the scope of the damage is so bad it’s a little bit hard to imagine not working through that framework because either we could just stop doing the work that we’re doing and let other people do it or we can kind of make some compromises and kind of join that world a little bit.  And because I think that we are flexible in a different way and we work with people who fall through cracks in a different way, like for instance, one month, I think January, we realized that like 80% of the people that we had worked with were single female heads of household with basement apartments that may or may not have been legal basement apartments but that paid for most of their living costs.  And so, if you’re renting your basement out for like $800 and that’s like a large, like a third or so of your income, particularly in the beginning there was really no help for people who had a rental unit because FEMA didn’t cover anything that wasn’t a living, like your own living space.  And if it was a rental unit it was considered a business and so you had to go through the SBA loan system but since you no longer had the rental income from the basement unit, you probably didn’t make enough money to qualify for the loan.  And so that was a really difficult thing because, you know, these people are just stuck in the middle.  In the beginning we didn’t think that we would work with landlords but when we realized who a lot of the landlords were on the ground, it’s a little hard to say no, you know.  And that’s actually who, I don’t know, those people, like you have a single mom, school teacher, day care center worker, some, you know, has her own house, you know, and so there was a lot of that.  Like we kind of expected – there are definitely are a lot of shitty landlords and absentee landlords but there were also a lot of people who just are like making it.  And again, like with Occupy I think some people have been pissed off because we’ve gotten a lot of funding.  Something like out of the project that they’ve funded, we got something like 30% of the money for the projects.  [It was later noted that these numbers were not exactly accurate, and the interviewee noted that they “did receive a lot of funding from Occupy Sandy and it drew attention to us.”]  But part of that is because we came in and if I had this to do over I probably would have tried, I would have understood more but I didn’t ever work with Occupy Wall Street with money so I didn’t really know how it worked.  But like we came in knowing how to write a budget and knowing how to write a proposal and knowing, like being able to, like we knew the list of tools we needed and things like that and so sometimes when like we would ask for tools on like the Amazon Gift Registry, which everybody has talked about, I think, and but we would ask for that because that was exactly what we needed like because we had 100 volunteers a day at one point, you know, 150 sometimes.  And so those tools would come in and we would go get them and people would think that we were hording tools but we actually were just taking the tools that we ordered and so there was some, like because we kind of came at it in this way that was like – we’re like just very organized, that was a little bit of a source of conflict.

Q:            Between you guys and Occupy Sandy?

A:            Well there would just be some people who would see stuff come in and be like, oh I hadn’t thought of that or like oh we need those too.

Q:            Yeah.

A:            And we were like, because let’s say, in the beginning let’s say you asked for like $10,000 from Occupy, it didn’t mean that they gave you $10,000.  Like if you listed that you needed the $10,000 for X amount of tools, and they had those tools in kind, they would just give you those tools.  So, like then to just give some of them away it meant that you asked for $10,000 but then you gave a $1,000 in tools away.  Or like, it’s kind of like you can’t really run a project like that and be able to expect to know what you’re doing the next day or what you’re capabilities are or what your capacity versus the demand is.

Q:            Yeah.  What are the main challenges you are sort of having to deal with now?  Like what do you expect kind of like going forward?

A:            I mean, we’ve been working for free for a really long time.  A couple times we’ve gotten a little bit of money specifically from people we knew who are like, you guys can use this any way you want.  And we were able to use that kind of stuff for operational stuff and we’ve been teaching like mold classes for the city, a few of us, and then making money that way.  But it’s difficult because we, we do think there’s a difference between us doing the work and other people doing the work because, you know, there’s different ways of giving people help and there’s different ways that like people, you know, that you can be focused on like dignity and justice and not just like the feel good, I mean, there’s a feel good feeling, right, like a whatever feeling from volunteering but we also think like, I don’t know, Naomi Klein said this kind of famously, I think, after she came to visit the Rockaways but like we don’t show up like the Red Cross with a box that’s like a disaster relief box, you know, like we all showed up and said like “what do you need.”  I think that the way we went about helping people was done with an understanding that there’s a politics of help and that not all help is created equal and not like, and just because you have really good intentions doesn’t mean that you’re not, like there aren’t really complicated power dynamics and things like that.  Like, I don’t know, so I think like staying, being able to scale what you’re doing but staying sort of committed to that is important to us and really difficult.

Q:            It’s tough.  So, obviously – actually I’m going to ask these first.  So, you know, you were talking about how you now, you know, you were asked right after the storm you were like admin for a couple websites and stuff, so like how do you think like social media has played into your experience with the storm?

A:            Yeah, well in a really simple way in the very beginning it just actually allowed us to move forward really quickly and I think that social media gave us the power to just share what we were seeing on the ground and share how bad it was with people.  And I started facebooking stories of like things that we had done or like pictures of what we had seen and people who I hadn’t seen in like seventeen years, like since I graduated from high school started asking me if we needed anything and could they send us money and like we weren’t even an organization yet, you know, but they just knew that we were down there, that we were doing the work, that we were doing it first hand, that we were doing it well and that like, you know, and so once that started happening I kind of realized that was a, you know, and I kind of like that kind of grass roots fund raising style better than other types.  And so, I started making lists on my facebook status that were like a shovel is $15 and one of these is this much money and gas is $4.00 a gallon and whatever.  And adding it all up to like how much money we would need for a couple of days and then people would ask where they could send a check.  And that was actually before I knew anything about working with Occupy Sandy, and how to like work with them with money and stuff.  But I think, you know, I think a lot of the – I think it would be really easy to have forgotten what was going on with Sandy for a lot of people if it wasn’t for social media, you know, and if it wasn’t for us being able to put together videos and if it wasn’t for us being able to like blast photos out to our thousand facebook, like people who like our facebook page or like my 2,000 facebook friends or whatever.  You know, and then also it’s been really important just for doing what we’re doing because we, you know, we come – I’m on these facebook groups and facebook friends of lots of people from the Rockaways and the affected areas and I can just kind of see the conversations that go on on people’s pages and like when different news stories are published, like what people say about them and what the reaction is.  And kind of gauge more of what people want, you know, and so it’s like a way to be doing like kind of getting community input even when you can’t be on the ground all the time and getting a sense, you know, of what the main issues are for people and what they need and want.

Q:            Right.  Sorry, I think like two, three more questions really quick.

A:            Okay.

Q:            So, obviously different people have different perspective, perceptions on when the crisis is over.  And so, in your opinion, you know, is the crisis over and like, you know, with mold remedy for example, like how does that, you know, prolong the process or, you know?

A:            Yeah.  I don’t think the crisis is over.  I mean, I still think a lot of people in the Rockaways aren’t home.  I think that a lot of people are going to be displaced. I think that a lot of the people who had living quarters in their basement that they were renting out are not going to be able to rent them out anymore because of, you know, if they have a mortgage they’re going to have to have flood insurance and blah, blah, blah.  And so, I think that there’s a lot of cases where you’re going to see two displaced families because they’re not going to rebuild an apartment on the bottom and the people on top are not going to be able to afford, you know, their mortgage and the flood insurance without the apartment on the bottom.  I also think that there’s going to be a big land use struggle as, you know, Cuomo talked about the buyout plan and the returning the land to marshland but Bloomberg talked about doing a buyout plan where other people could buy up the property.  You know, and I think that there’s – I just think the same, the same as a lot of places.  I think we’re going to see a big push to sell that property off to the highest bidder and I think that, I think without a struggle they’re going to try to remain optimistic about this but with, you know, about the struggle that needs to happen.  But without that struggle, I think that there’s going to be a huge demographic shift in the Rockaways away from being one of the last places that you can kind of reasonably [buy a home as a working class person], I don’t know, I mean, maybe it’s a little less true now.  I think real estate has really gone up in the last few years but like one of the last places you can really like maybe buy a decent sized home, not just a co-op apartment like as a relatively like working or middle class person.  And I think that as, you know, because only big developers and very wealthy people are going to be able to build to the new requirements.  A lot is going to have to happen to not see massive displacement there.  With the mold, people are still living in mold and people who – a lot of people, you know, it’s like the saddest thing that we would see is like somebody who we had like cleaned out their basement or something in the beginning and be like, oh come over and look and see everything we did and they had like rebuilt.  Everybody wanted to be in by Christmas.  So, lots of people, if they had any means, threw up sheetrock, threw up, you know, a base coat, threw up some paint.  But they didn’t really do anything with the mold.  And we think that as it gets warm, particularly when it’s hot and humid, even like more humid whatever, than it is here ’cause it’s like right by the beach in the summer, we think that people are going to see that they spent thousands of dollars rebuilding and that mold is going to come through, you know, the walls and they’ll have to do everything over.  So, in cases where there’s someone living there who already has respiratory illness or some kind of immune compromised position, that can also be a public health issue.

Q:            I held off onto something else and now I can’t get it back.  So, it escaped my mind.

A:            That’s okay.

Q:            I’ll probably get back to that if it comes back at the end.  So, I mean, just to shift a little bit, obviously with the more recent storms with Hurricane Sandy, climate change has sort of been, you know, talked about now like, you know, why do, you know, like why do you think the storm happened and to what extent did Hurricane Sandy change the way that you think about climate change or like your organization thought on the change?

A:            I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever necessarily been like a climate change denier, but I think that, you know, it’s interesting like again what I was saying before about there being really mixed messaging because different politicians are sort of saying different things or suggesting different things.  I think that that’s been really, you know, we have people we’ve worked with who are like, no one has told me anything about my flood insurance rates going up yet so I think that’s bullshit or like we’re not going to raise our home ’cause that’s so much money.  Like there’s always been a storm like this every 100 years but we’re going to be dead by then and so what, you know what I mean?  And so, I don’t know, I think that it’s, I mean, sea level has already risen a foot in the last I don’t know how many years but faster sea level rising than we expected right.

Q:            Yeah.

A:            And that’s continuing to happen and beaches are continuing to erode and I think that coastal areas are continuing to be more vulnerable.  Short of building in an entirely different way – but I think it just makes it seem more real.  I mean, it’s not a totally foreign idea that New York will get hit with some kind of storms since it’s on the coast but at the same time it’s never, I mean, I grew up in this area and like we would have like the remnants of some hurricanes.  It would knock down a tree or maybe a couple power lines so some people on some blocks were without power or like we would have really bad snow storms but – the weather is getting really weird.  You know like we had a lot – it would be – we were always amazed at home many like 55 degree days we had this winter with like volunteers coming in and, you know, we had 10 degree days too but like it was nothing like it used to be like when I was growing up.  I don’t remember the weather being like this at all.  And so I think it’s – I think that particularly because a lot of people agree that this may happen more and more frequently it’s going to change, it’s going to have to change the way people think about living on coasts.  You know, people have definitely asked us like do you think it may be kind of a waste to help people rebuild in coastal areas that are likely to get flooded again?  And it’s a hard thing to say because again we don’t, I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to be – there may not be a flood like Sandy for 20 years.  Even if it’s happening a lot more than it used to, that could be every 10 years.  You know what I mean?  Like we don’t know what that’s going to look like and also it’s just hard not to take the human component of that into consideration first because even if we are helping someone rebuild something that may get destroyed again, at least they’re not getting pushed out of their home against their will.  You know, let them make that decision next time it happens but let’s not have them have to move because this storm made them destitute with no like decision making power of their own.

Q:            So, if the storm was connected to climate change, what do you think going forward like could do to make it so that it won’t be worse next time?   Something like to maybe keep it from happening?

A:            I mean, I think that we can stop rebuilding in the same old way that we have.  There are things that you can use besides sheetrock which is going to – which is essentially disposable, you know, the minute there’s any water damage.  I think that there’s different ways of building that aren’t as susceptible to water damage and I think that, you know, I mean, it does seem a little crazy that there are homes like so close to the beach with a full basement, you know, that people live in.  It’s just, like that does seem a little crazy to me.  And maybe we need to rethink that, you know.  I also think a government based or, you know, larger infrastructural level, let’s talk about, I mean, this is one thing it’s hard to talk about like in the communities because you don’t necessarily want to start talking about solar panels because in certain ways, like everybody in the Rockaway is getting solar panels, it’s not preventing the next storm, like it’s just not how things work.  And so, it’s a little bit difficult to explain, I don’t know, to make these connections without like exaggerating what those connections look like or, I don’t know, but I think that this should scare some government agencies and people like that into not relying on fossil fuel so much and to let – having their being more incentives for people to have solar energy and creating wind farms and, you know, or even just because like look what happened when there was just no gas.  Like there were people waiting twelve hours, you know.  And like that’s how dependent on gas we are, you know.  So, on one hand you’re seeing something that’s very likely the result of climate change and on the other hand you’re seeing like people just living these shitty days out that are totally, you know, a result of being so dependent also on climate change, you know what I mean?  And that was kind of an interesting thing too.  And it was, you know, there are some people who would say to us like, this environmentalist kind of said to us, like – which is kind of funny ’cause I also consider myself at least something of an environmentalist but people were like, you shouldn’t be using gas powered pumps and you shouldn’t be using gas powered generators and they’re so inefficient and blah, blah, blah.  It’s like, this guy’s got four feet of water in his basement, like I’m not going to wait around for somebody to create like a bike powered water pump.  You know, like we have to be realistic at the same time but I don’t know.

Q:            Right.  So, just really quick, going back to the crisis, you know, like how can you tell like when a crisis is over, like what – what do you think?

A:            I mean, for one thing there’s just so much uncertainty still.  Like I was facebooking with this woman who commented on our facebook page and she was saying that they were denied money from FEMA in an amount that would like meaningful help them do anything to their house but they qualified for money to stay in a hotel for the last five months.  And so, A) there’s like the political economy issues of that.  We were – I keep feeling like I’m focusing on possibly too much but also just like that kind of uncertainty really takes a psychic toll, you know, it takes a psychic and emotional toll.  And living, you know, far away and driving your kids to school and maybe taking an hour and a half to get there or things like that.  I mean, that’s – I think that there’s always going to be – after like the big crisis and the photogenic crisis, you know, and the if it bleeds it leads crisis.  There’s always going to be a more quiet crisis and, you know, people who at this point and time and just people who have fallen through the cracks either it’s just so many people and stable people and, you know, people with union jobs and – are really suffering and really aren’t back home and there’s a lot of uncertainty and that kind of uncertainty and like your basic survival at this point is like so painful.  It would be hard for me to say the crisis is over and like, you know, I go in and out of people’s houses every day and they’re gutted.  I mean, they’re skeletons of houses that people are living in and, you know, like to some extent and people are still living in unsafe conditions and just don’t know what’s going to happen and don’t know what their community is going to look like and you hear people on Staten Island talking about living on blocks even if they’re okay where only three homes have people in them.  I mean, that’s a little bit of a crisis too because you don’t know if you’re going to upend your family and you’re going to like uproot your kids and you’re going to move on, like what you’re going to do and I think like on a very human level like that, even if you’re one of the people who are in your house and not one of the 70% of the people who aren’t yet on your block, it’s still a crisis for you for that reason and obviously it’s a bigger crisis for other people who are still living in temporary living situations.

Q:            Yeah.  It’s difficult to like figure out ’cause at – yeah, everybody has their own different perception of –

A:            Yeah.

Q:            — if they still need help or if like, you know, they are totally fine and back, like things are back to normal for them or not back to normal.  I think that’s mostly what I have to ask but is there like anything else you would like to add or speak more of?

A:            I don’t think so.  I think that, you know, I think that to some extent the comparisons to Katrina that everyone made in the beginning and I think in terms of scale of the destruction, I mean, the people who got hit very hard got hit as hard as people did to some extent in Katrina but obviously like this scale wasn’t the same and the impact on like the city as a whole wasn’t the same.  But I do think that we’re going to be experiencing the same kind of displacement and people just moving.  I mean, even with the buyouts, if you’re going to be able to get like your value of your home, like where else in New York are you going to move if you’re home is worth $300,000, or you know what I mean.  There’s just not really – maybe you can move into like an co-op apartment.  Like you’re not, you don’t have a lot of choices.  And I think that while obviously it’s different, there’s not going to be like vast, you know, it’s not like some people are in Texas and some people are like shipped all over the country but I think that, I think it’s going to change the landscapes of our coastal areas in the ways that nobody has ever – people haven’t talked about that happening to New York, to my knowledge, in the really public way.  I don’t know.  We’ll see, I mean, I just – I hope two things come out of this.  One being a real kind of like community self determination movement in affected areas and the other is I hope that it could maybe solidify some kind of movement to change the way we do disaster relief because it’s – it’s almost not meant to work well.  And that has a lot of impact on a lot of people and if we are seeing more natural disasters, I think it’s time to think about doing it a different way and maybe putting more of the power over what to do in the hands of community members.

Q:            Cool, thank you so much for your time.

A:            No problem.

Q:            And answering questions.  Sorry it got a little emotional in the middle.

A:            That’s okay.  I just always feel bad actually because when I have talked to people about like what I’ve experienced, like I mean –

Q:            You can’t help but feel it.

A:            Yeah.  I’m not really sad or like feeling upset or anything, but it’s just, I know it’s going to happen and I actually feel worse for the people I’m talking to than I do for myself because –

Q:            No I –

A:            You know, it’s hard to talk about that much suffering without any kind of emotion whatsoever.

Q:            No, I completely understand.  You can’t help but be attached.

A:            Yeah.

Q:            Yeah, thank you so much.

A:            No problem.

Q:            So, I think I’ll probably get back in touch with you hopefully soon just about like the transcript and seeing if there’s anything you want to add or if anything changed.

A:            Okay, cool.  Yeah, I’m sorry about my delay in getting back and forth to you.  I felt bad.

Q:            Oh no, you were totally fine.  Sorry I sent like a bunch of emails.  I didn’t know –

A:            No, that’s totally fine.  I just felt like I kept not getting back to you for a couple of days and –

Q:            You don’t need to be sorry, I understand.  Thank you so much for meeting me so soon.  You leave tomorrow for a trip.

A:            Oh yeah, that’s okay.

Q:            I really appreciate it.

A:            I felt a little bad making you come to my –

Q:            Oh no, that’s totally fine.  I’m seeing a new neighborhood.

A:            Okay, cool.  I do have to get going.

[End of recording]

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