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New York landlords urged to house Sandy victims

Ruth Hawfield sits next to her cot in a Red Cross evacuation shelter set up in the gymnasium of Toms River High School on November 5, 2012 in Toms River, N.J.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to ask the feds for $30 billion in disaster relief. Part of that will go to housing. It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast and thousands still need a place to live. Some have even suggested putting people in a former jail -- or using foreclosed properties. 

That’s because even before Sandy hit, it was hard to find an apartment in New York. Landlords like Ron Moelis want to help. 

“Can we provide these apartments in some expedited way for people who are put out of their homes not just for a week or two but for months?” he says.

Out of his company’s more than 8,000 apartments, about 150 are vacant. Moelis is among New York’s big landlords who have been meeting with government officials since the storm to figure out a way to house the displaced. One idea is to create a directory of what’s available for rent, but there are issues to work out. 

For instance, many rentals have income requirements for prospective tenants. 

“Even if they do qualify for the income, they might not have the paperwork, because a lot of their paperwork might have been destroyed or still in the home they were flooded out of,” Moelis says.

A number of rules will have to be relaxed under the circumstances, like allowing tenants to stay less than a year. 

“We have to make sure all the waivers are in place to allow us to use this housing for temporary housing,” says Alison Badgett, who heads the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. 

A plan is expected by the time President Obama tours storm damage in the area Thursday. Moelis has been here before. He’s been developing affordable housing in New Orleans post-Katrina. 

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to solve the problem this way, but you’ll make a dent,” Moelis said. 

And, getting at least some of the Sandy victims in vacant apartments can be a win-win for landlords and the displaced.  

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