It’s been 10 years since Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. New York City and State were forced to consider the climate crisis and its impact on communities left woefully unprepared in coastal neighborhoods. In Queens, many say that Black homeowners were left out ‘on the bayside’ near Far Rockaway and the city will not reach climate goals with such slow progress.

The historic hurricane claimed 44 lives, flooded 51 miles of city land, left about 2.5 million residents without power or gas, and caused an estimated $19 billion in damages.

Department of Education Payroll Administrator Shaquanna Watson, 37, was one of the 35,000 residents temporarily or permanently displaced after the storm. She had moved into her new apartment on 54th Street in Arverne in Jamaica Bay, Queens in 2011 with her husband and children. Arverne is a small community of working class Black, brown, and Asian homeowners who are often city employees. The area is 9 feet above sea level and therefore was not included in the flood zone maps back in 2012.

“We’re standing on the terrace, looking at the storm as the ocean starts to rise, the Bay starts to rise, and the water just started to elevate in the streets and you heard people screaming,” said Watson who decided to wait out the storm from her family’s 9th floor apartment instead of her ground floor home.

Southeast Queens Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson said based on the glacial recovery progress made since Sandy and the lack of funding for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act), there’s just not enough being done.

In 2019, the Climate Act required reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, and 85% by 2050 in the state. The city has promised 100% emissions free electricity by 2040 to aid in reaching this goal.

Climate activist groups as well as impacted community members of color categorically believe the city and state will not meet those goals, despite Mayor Eric Adams’ recent announcement of  $8.5 billion for critical resiliency projects and a $4 billion plan to construct all-electric city schools by 2030.

“We are behind and we just have to be honest about it. We are past planning and the studies, we know what’s coming and what’s happening. These storms and the climate crisis are getting stronger and more frequent,” said Lonnie Portis, environmental policy and advocacy coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

The focus of Sandy recovery has primarily been on the Rockaway boardwalk or on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, said Anderson, but not on helping families of color repair bayside bulkheads and reinforcing infrastructure as planned with federal funding.

“I think it’s a racial justice issue,” said Anderson. “If the bay was as profitable as the boardwalk it would’ve been fixed 10 years ago. That’s the reality. But because it’s poor, working class, civil servants, Black, brown, and Asian, it is the way that it is today. We can course correct once all agencies begin to coordinate and respect these neighborhoods.”

When Watson returned home she found her apartment utterly destroyed except for a high cabinet that had her wedding photos in them. She was pregnant at the time, and had to spend the next nine months with her family struggling to find housing going to work. She said that the non-profit Red Cross was able to give her emergency assistance and housing.

“When they called me for the apartment I had just got out the hospital. In so much pain because I had a Cesarean but I had to go to this appointment,” said Watson. “With my stitches and my staples, I pulled it together and went to look at this apartment they were giving me.”

Watson’s story about help coming months to years later unfortunately isn’t uncommon, nor is cold or dismissive treatment from government agencies.

Chakka Baptiste, 50, an Airforce vet and Department of Transportation employee, owned his “dream house” in Arverne. He said that during the storm he was trapped in the second floor hallway with his dogs for almost three hours, waiting for the waters to recede. Baptiste said that he applied for the Build It Back program in 2013 and didn’t get an inspection done for the construction until 2015, which landed on the day of his mother’s funeral.

“I told them, I said I’m burying my mother today and they told me that if I don’t take this appointment they were going to push me to the back of the list,” said Baptiste.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

This article was written as part of the 2022 NY State Elections Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community Media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.