YWCA’s Affordable Housing Suffers Damage From Hurricane Irene

Eligible for FEMA Funding, But That’s a Reimbursement-Only Program

YWCA Executive Director Martha Kamber points to water damage in a kitchen.

By Linda Collins

YWCA Executive Director Martha Kamber points to water damage in a kitchen.

BOERUM HILL — Staff members at the YWCA of Brooklyn and residents of its affordable housing element are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irene.

The water damage was so extensive that Martha Kamber, executive director, is seeking help from FEMA, the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Small Business Administration, the City Council, Borough President Marty Markowitz, U.S. senators Carl Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Ed Towns and Assemblywoman Joan Millman — in short, anyone or any agency that could possibly help.

“We have put in an application with FEMA and, preliminarily, we are eligible. We have no reason to believe we are not,” Kamber told the Eagle this week, noting that most of the elected officials, while extremely responsive and helpful, referred her to FEMA.

“But FEMA is a reimbursement program and we have no up-front money,” she added. “So we need a short-term up-front loan to do the repairs, which we can then pay off with FEMA funds.”

Kamber said that 40 residential units (of 300), including 32 of the single occupancy rooms (SRO) on the upper floors and eight of the brand new studio apartments, were damaged, some with walls and ceilings falling in. “We had to move six residents out of their apartments completely — luckily we had some empty rooms to move them to,” she said. “Three others should have been moved out but they are refusing to leave their rooms.” Additionally, corridors, stairwells, one of the communal kitchens and a laundry room were damaged.

“It was very weird and very random. It came in through various points through the masonry,” said Kamber, who noted that she already knew there was a problem with the parapet and rusted pipes and some leakage on one side of the 11th floor. “But this was totally unexpected. These were all new leaks and much more serious.” The brand new roof did not leak, she said.

Kamber plus three other members of her staff plus the security guard who is not an employee, spent the night of the hurricane at the Y.

“Many of our residents are elderly and frail — 40 are seniors — and we have a large population of mentally ill,” she said. “My concern was if the power went out and the subways weren’t running there would be no staff here.” During the storm, those staff members that stayed spent the night emptying buckets and moving women and their stuff out of their rooms. “They were great,” she said of her staff.

Kamber had prepared as much as she could for the hurricane, buying 10 cases of water, first aid kits and flashlights and batteries at Target, and $500 worth of food at Costco for the tenants; plus pillows for her employees.

But they were unprepared for flooding. And until an assessment is done, she won’t really know what caused it and what needs to be done next.

Currently, she has four workers working round the clock doing plastering and painting of the least damaged areas. “But it’s just going to get wet again the next time it rains,” she said. “We can’t have the women living in rooms that will only flood again.”

Ultimately, her concern is for the potential future loss of affordable housing.

“We have women we would have to move out permanently and it means eliminating those affordable apartments if we don’t get the problem fixed,” she said.

The reimbursement-only element of FEMA is frustrating to Kamber.

“All the people who have damage are expected to come up with the money to make their own repairs and then seek reimbursement?” she asks.

Meanwhile, Towns is trying to get a small business loan, Markowitz has contacted The Fund for the City of New York and Millman is looking into a joint effort of elected officials. All would be paid back with the FEMA grant, Kamber said.

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