Red Cross helping Sandy victims still in NY hotels

AP News
Posted: Oct 04, 2013 9:42 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The Red Cross has stepped in to help hundreds of Superstorm Sandy evacuees who were thrown into housing limbo on Friday after the city stopped paying to put them up in hotels.

Nearly 300 people displaced by last October's storm were still staying in 27 hotels at city expense this week, but their last night on the city's dime came Thursday. The city ended its hotel program after funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency dried up this week. City officials said they could no longer afford the rooms, which had an average cost of $266 per night.

As of Friday, people staying in those rooms were to be on their own. But as nonprofit social service organizations scrambled to find alternative housing arrangements, the Red Cross said it would commit $1 million to extend the hotel stays of many of those families.

Not everyone will qualify for help, and it wasn't immediately clear how many of the 294 people who were in the city's hotel rooms Thursday night would get assistance quickly enough to get back in the rooms Friday evening.

Greater New York Red Cross CEO Josh Lockwood said the emergency aid is being aimed toward people who had a more permanent "housing solution" somewhere on the horizon. That might include people whose homes are being repaired and just need additional time for the work to be complete, he said, or people who had lined up apartments but couldn't move in immediately.

A social service organization, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, was hurriedly working with The Legal Aid Society to identify and contact people who had been clients of the city program. The New York Disaster Interfaith Services said it received the list on Thursday, leaving little time to reach out.

"We've spent the last two days trying to find them," said Peter Gudaitis, a New York Disaster Interfaith Services administrator.

He said some of the hotels in the program didn't want the storm evacuees to stay. Others had demanded rent up front or payments for damage to the rooms.

"The reality is that the city stopped paying and most of these families cannot even afford $99 or $150 per night, never mind the $400 per night that some of these hotels have been charging," Gudaitis said.

But he said that because of the Red Cross donation "a significant number" were going to get extra time before they have to move out.

Other residents, including some who had been homeless or on the edge of homelessness before the storm, would probably not qualify to have their hotel stays extended because they had no viable plans for paying for their own place anytime soon. Those people would be referred to other services, including the city's shelter system, Gudaitis said.

More than 3,000 people were in the city's hotel rooms over the life of the program. The city spent about $70 million on the rooms before ending the program.