Sheepshead Bay

Seven years after Sandy, no fix in sight for rotting abandoned homes

"You don’t just walk away from your home, you stay and fight.”

August 7, 2019 Jeffery Harrell
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Nearly seven years after Superstorm Sandy hit Sheepshead Bay, Missy Haggerty’s home has been repaired by the city.

But as the government wraps up their work in Haggerty’s neighborhood, set to finish in early fall, she still lives next door to an abandoned, flood-damaged house.

“They spent millions of dollars down here — and look at the place,” said Haggerty. “They’re not done here.”

Haggerty lives in a low-lying row of bungalows known in Sheepshead Bay as a “court.” Her home sat below sea-level during Sandy, and when the storm hit South Brooklyn flood waters nearly submerged all the homes in the Lake Avenue court.

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She spent the following years battling through red tape to access funds from the scandal-ridden and problem-plagued Build it Back program to rebuild after the disaster.

“It’s my community,” said Haggerty. “I know everyone here, I love it here. You don’t just walk away from your home, you stay and fight.”

Missy Haggerty. Eagle photo by Jeffery Harrell

But not everyone on Lake Avenue was ready to spend years wading through bureaucracy to save their homes. Some people, especially renters who had little stake in rebuilding, packed up and left.

Now, most of their homes still sit as they were the day after Sandy, abandoned and mold-infested.

One of these abandoned homes — 5 Lake Ave. — was home to a woman who was nine months pregnant on the night the storm began. The lock on the front door of the house she shared with her partner is broken, and the home is still filled with unworn baby clothes and a crib, along with more furniture covered in mold.

The smell of rotting wood hangs over the row of houses like a cloud, and Haggerty has recently begun finding needles in and around them. She says they’ve become home to squatters who come at night to sleep. There have been two home robberies on Lake Avenue in recent months.

“Why don’t Build it Back send security down here if they can’t get rid of these things?” said Haggerty.

Inside one of the abandoned homes. Eagle photo by Jeffery Harrell

Tearing the houses down is complicated, and the question of who is ultimately responsible for them is open ended.

Is it Build it Back?

According to a spokesperson for BIB, “privately owned property fall[s] outside the purview of Build it Back.” BIB is limited to working with homeowners who willingly opted in to the program.

Maybe the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which falls under the authority of the mayor, could tear the homes down?

Although they worked with BIB to repair 45 homes in the Sheepshead Bay courts, HPD has only been able to purchase and demolish six homes in the area, according to BIB officials. One more is set to be demolished in the coming months.

According to a spokesperson for HPD, Build it Back is responsible for negotiating acquisition of homes with owners.

What about the City Council?

Councilmember Chaim Deutsch has been working with both BIB and HPD to buy up abandoned homes in the area. But when the owner is unresponsive, as is the case with at least five homes in the Lake Avenue court, there’s not much they can do.

Eagle photo by Jeffery Harrell

Three of the five abandoned homes are owned by Zalmen Weber. According to property records, Weber — unluckily — purchased the homes just a few years before Sandy.

Although city government was able to contact him back in 2015, he was uninterested in repairing the property and he’s since become unreachable. Four years later, no progress has been made on demolition.

Haggerty says mail for Weber has been coming to the house for years. According to property records, U.S. Bank is foreclosing on the property.

“Zalmen Weber; I’d love to find that guy.” said Haggerty. “He needs to come take care of what’s his.”

For all its issues and false starts, BIB has made serious progress on Lake Avenue.

Haggerty’s house was raised up more than 10 feet off the ground on concrete pylons. Two abandoned houses have been demolished, and a third is set to be torn down in the coming months. A new walkway has been installed between houses with an improved drainage system.

During heavy thunderstorms this summer that came with a flash flood warning, Haggerty says the court was clear of water.

“And we’re grateful for that,” she said. “We’re more than grateful, but they’re not done here. They can’t just walk away until they finish the job.”

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