On April 30th our staff and board met at Good Old Lower East Side’s storefront office on Avenue B.
Walking through the neighborhood on a breezy, sunny day, it was difficult to imagine what it must have looked like in the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Faced with flooding, power outages, and the absence of any immediate emergency assistance, neighborhood residents had to rely on local nonprofits including Good Old Lower East Side to meet their urgent needs.
The storm exposed the disparate effects of climate change on low- and moderate-income communities along the coast—communities that were already struggling with inadequate and vulnerable physical infrastructure, economic isolation, and poor housing conditions. Grassroots organizations provided crucial relief services, including food, shelter, and power, repair to damaged homes, detailed updates and information, help with filing applications for FEMA relief funds, coordinating hundreds of volunteers, canvassing public-housing buildings to locate isolated frail residents, and communicating with government officials and the press to report on where help was most needed.
Today, local organizations have turned their attention to rebuilding and readiness. They are in the forefront of efforts to address the vulnerabilities communities face in the event of another disaster: crumbling infrastructure, weak transportation, and the inequitable distribution of resources. We heard about how neighborhood residents are using community planning, participatory research, and coalition-building to push for change. We learned how local efforts fuel citywide and regional alliances to pressure government officials to adopt policies that better protect their neighborhoods from the effects of climate change.
Good Old Lower East Side
Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) was founded by residents in 1977 who wanted to preserve the neighborhood’s fragile affordable housing stock and protect tenants’ legal rights to remain in their homes. Though the organization has operated for most of its history on a modest budget with a small staff, today it serves over 3,000 neighborhood residents and reached over 10,000 through its public programs. Its five areas of work include community organizing, direct service, public education, community-based participatory research, and coalition building. Hurricane Sandy has had a profound effect on GOLES as many of its staff and members lived in nearby public housing and were personally affected by the storm. The small storefront office was flooded and had no power for many days, but became the center of neighborhood relief efforts. GOLES has taken on whole new areas of work related to recovery after the storm: service coordination, research about the storm’s impact and readiness for future disasters, and monitoring of the city and state rebuilding efforts.
NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA), founded in 1991, advocates for improved environmental conditions and an end to the placement of polluting projects and hazardous materials in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods. A Sandy Regional Summit, held in January 2013, aimed to influence New York City’s industrial waterfront policies, and reduce cumulative contamination and public health risks posed by storm surges and climate change. NYCEJA created maps and reports to illustrate the concentration of industrial facilities and to expose the vulnerability of low-income communities to future storm surges and flooding.
Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (a campaign of Alliance for a Greater New York)
The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (the Alliance) united community, labor, faith, and environmental organizations around recommendations for a just and sustainable rebuilding effort following Hurricane Sandy. Aiming to influence the allocation of public resources for storm recovery, the Alliance advocated for habitable and healthy homes; jobs and economic opportunity; and inclusion and transparency. Using policy reports, rallies, and public forums, the Alliance has pushed decision-makers to hasten the timetable for rebuilding, and distribute public resources more equitably.
Who We Met
Executive Director, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES)
Damaris Reyes is a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side and has been with GOLES since 2000. She has been involved in community organizing and housing issues both locally and nationally for nearly 20 years. She is the chair of LES Ready, a recovery and disaster network with 40 organizational members, and a member of the NY Rising committee, created by the Governor’s office to develop resiliency initiatives. Reyes currently sits on the Center for Neighborhood Leadership advisory board and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice board of directors. She is also a member of Community Board 3 and sits on the first ever Public Housing Committee, its Land Use, Zoning & Housing committee, and the Waterfront Taskforce, charged with the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, which was recently awarded $335 million to design flood protections along the East River. A regular public speaker around public housing and resiliency, her work has taken her internationally to learn about flood protection strategies and to share best practices in community engagement, resiliency, and disaster-preparedness. She has received numerous honors for her work, including the 2006 New York Women’s Foundation’s Neighborhood Leadership Award and the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Arts Society.
Executive Direcor, New York Environmental Justice Alliance (NYCEJA)
Mr. Bautista is a community organizer and urban planner. Before joining NYEJA, Mr. Bautista served as Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of City Legislative Affairs where led efforts to pass several major legislative initiatives, including the City’s 20-year landmark Solid Waste Management Plan. Mr. Bautista was also the Director of Community Planning for NY Lawyers for the Public Interest. In 2003, Mr. Bautista was among 17 national winners of the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World awards. He is a visiting professor at Pratt Institute’s Graduate Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development.
Executive Director, Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN)
Before joining the Alliance, Mr. Ryan organized low-wage worker unions in cities across the Midwest. In Cincinnati, he led the Justice for Janitors campaign that united 1,500 commercial office janitors and built broad community support with local faith, community, and political leaders. After achieving the city’s first janitors union and industry-wide contract, Mr. Ryan became Cincinnati City Director of SEIU Local 1 and later served as an executive board member and trustee of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.