Statement of Assemblyman Steve Otis, Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery Meeting on the Hurricane Ida Action Plan, September 8, 2022, New Rochelle City Hall

Welcome to New Rochelle and to the Sound Shore of Westchester County. Thank you for your Hurricane Ida Action Plan and Program Design proposal.

And thank you for coming here to share your plan and solicit further comments. Westchester County communities suffered severe damage from Hurricane Ida, some of the worst flood loss challenges in the region. The events of last year do not stand in isolation. Prior storms have also reminded Sound Shore residents of our continued vulnerability to storm events and the importance of implementing resilience and mitigation projects on an expedited basis.

I have worked on these issues for many years going back to FEMA’s Project Impact when I was mayor of the City of Rye. Over a decade ago, I served on the Westchester County Flood Action Task Force. I also have worked with the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery since it was created after Superstorm Sandy in 2013. 

The recurring challenge for residents and local governments has been to keep the focus on implementing resiliency projects when the sky is blue and memories of storm damage fade with time.

We need to double our efforts at implementing resiliency projects and that is the message we have heard consistently from Governor Hochul, from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and the many other state agencies that have been very active in Westchester since Hurricane Ida last September.

The Hurricane Ida Action Plan and Program Design is an important part of the state government response because of its focus on assessing and responding to unmet needs, especially related to housing. GOSR reviewed what other federal and state programs were able to accomplish to date. This review was a very important part of the GOSR plan for the use of over $41 million in federal funds.

In developing the plan, GOSR met with local officials, the vital not-for-profit community, state legislators and numerous state agencies involved in the Ida response. The programs in the plan are designed to address unmet needs related to housing consistent with the federal framework covering these CDBG funds.

I would like to highlight a few of the components of the plan that I believe are valuable towards improving our resilience in the future.

I am very pleased to see that the plan includes funding of tasks that may not have been readily available in other programs such as repairs to owner occupied residences, relocation of tenants, and support for housing authorities and not-for-profits that provide housing.

The plan underscores the importance of reducing natural disaster risk, the importance of reducing exposure and, where appropriate, removing people from harm’s way.

The plan also reinforces the importance of building code compliance and sustainable rebuilding. The current theme of “build back better” has a longer history when it comes to rebuilding after a storm. Hurricane Ida Action Plan projects will include building code compliance and improvements to make housing more resilient.

This legislative session Senator Mayer and I passed legislation in both houses to

require flood mitigation considerations be reviewed for elevated consideration in the state building code. The NYS Building Code Council would then examine how to better incorporate these issues as part of the state standards. It is great to see building code compliance included as a principle in the GOSR plan.

As was the case with GOSR’s New York Rising program, the Hurricane Action Plan encourages matching the funds provided through this program with other funding sources. This will be especially important with municipal projects where more funding is needed from all sources to implement flood mitigation and resiliency projects, many of which have already been studied but not yet funded or implemented.

One area where I think the plan can be modified would be to include cooperatives and condominiums in the Affordable Housing Resiliency Initiative eligibility criteria. If the resident economic qualifications criteria are met, those complexes should not be excluded just because they are constituted as a cooperative or a condominium.

Another area in which we need to find additional resources is to help fund mitigation projects affecting small businesses in high-risk flood areas. Fitting these projects with the HUD funding parameters may not be feasible. I suggest that GOSR look for outside funding or partnerships with other state agencies such as the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Empire State Development or the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES).

In every community I represent, we have businesses that continue to be vulnerable to major storm events. We need to give local governments additional tools to fund the flood mitigation projects necessary to better protect these businesses. GOSR can play a role in supporting these efforts.

Hurricane Ida also highlighted the weakness of our municipal stormwater systems across the state. Failing or inadequately sized stormwater systems resulted in damage to residential and commercial properties.

I want to make a pitch today for voter approval of the Environmental Bond Act on the ballot this November. The bond act includes a proposal I have championed to create a new stormwater grant program. The bond act, if approved by the voters, will provide at least $250 million for these needed grants. Our municipalities and local property taxpayers need state assistance to help pay for these needed upgrades.

I look forward to hearing other comments on the Hurricane Ida Action Plan and know the GOSR will make adjustments. I want to again thank Governor Hochul, my colleagues in both houses of the legislature, Katie Brennan, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and the entire GOSR team for securing these federal funds and making a commitment to addressing the housing and infrastructure needs that continue to require our attention and commitment.