Story by Jeff Lipton.
Long Beach residents and merchants seem to be willing to rebuild their homes and shops rather than flee the city a month after Hurricane Sandy struck, according to officials.
“People are not leaving in droves,” Scott Kemins, the city’s buildings commissioner, said last week. “And I don’t foresee that happening, a large influx of people leaving. They’re not running away.”
City officials are trying to provide residents and business owners with information on how to get the financial assistance they need to stay in Long Beach, since they have found that they are confused and lack knowledge on these matters.
“Right now we’re trying to help people deal with the damage and give them information about the money they may be eligible for,” Kemins said. “All day long the phones are ringing off the hook, which is a good sign. Residents want to fix their homes and stay here because Long Beach is such a great community.”Follow Long Beach Patch on Facebook.
City officials have worked non-stop in an effort to help merchants and residents get back on their feet, said Kemins, who said he has lived at City Hall every day following the storm and continues work extended hours. “We will live through this and come back stronger than ever,” he said.
Local realtor Joe Sinnona urged Long Beach residents not to sell their properties in a panic because that could cause the price of area homes to drop $50,000 to $100,000.
“They should not panic-sell, which is the worst thing they could possibly do,” Sinnona said. “That could also affect the properties around them. We want to make sure the values stay pretty high in Long Beach, to keep it stable.”
Sinnona said the key is to try to maintain calm during a crisis and not to become panic-stricken.
“I lost a home, two cars and a business and I’ve been able to still maintain some sanity,” said Sinnona, who is staying with in-laws. “I’m trying to feed positive messages to people and provide them with a sense of uplift.”
Through social media such as Facebook, Sinnona has been able to get information to residents and business owners about the assistance available to them.
He has also been working closely with the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Long Island business and real estate communities to supply information to those affected by the storm.
Sinnona said he has heard that some businesses want to leave the city and urged the chamber to meet with merchants about plans to assist them.
“They’ve got to help people,” said Sinnona. “The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce has got to step up. This is their moment to shine.”
However, Michael Kerr, chamber president, said his group was technically “defunct” because its offices were decimated by the storm.
“Our Long Beach office was wiped out completely,” Kerr said. “What would these people like the chamber to do? It’s not like we’re insensitive. The chamber’s officers are worried about their immediate needs, which are their families and their livelihoods.”
Kerr said his Fire Command business was heavily damaged and several chamber officers, who are volunteers, were heavy victims of the hurricane.
He said the chamber offices are full of mold and workers would have to strip the walls and rebuild, which could take up to two months. Despite the hardships the chamber has suffered, its officers have met with city and state officials to get a better handle on how they could help storm victims.
“Chamber officials continue to work [on behalf of the city’s merchants] as they hope to rebuild their own lives,” said Kerr, who noted that he has no figures on how many shopkeepers have left the city but at least half initially fled after the storm. “I don’t know how many have come back,” he added.
The chamber’s main focus now is to inform merchants what financial assistance is available to them. Many business owners are fighting with their insurance companies over “legitimate damage” to their shops, he said.
Some of the financial programs available are Federal Emergency Management Agency grants of up to $37,500 for those without flood insurance. The Small Business Administration has also offered loans to shopkeepers at an interest rate of a little over 4 percent.Be a Follower. Explore and subscribe to Patch groups.
Roy Lester, school board president, said the schools have not noticed a large drop-off in attendance.
“The response, when we opened our schools, was phenomenal,” Lester said. “It was much better than we thought it would be.”
About 90 percent of the high school students showed up to class and no fewer than 70 percent at one of the elementary schools, he said.
“We were really happy because anytime there is a disaster you worry that people will desert the area,” he said. “And to see a response like that was kind of heartening. People were saying we would get only 50 percent [attendance].”
Many residents had left the city following the storm and the district bused students in from all over the place.
“It was amazing how many people were out of their homes and still managed to get their kids to school,” Lester said.