Life In Sheepshead Bay’s Bungalow Courts Is Still Rotten Three Years After Sandy

The bungalows between Brown and Batchelder streets. (Photo: Hayley Lind)
The bungalows between Brown and Batchelder streets. (Photo: Hayley Lind)

By Hayley Lind

Residents of a vulnerable stretch of Sheepshead Bay devastated by Superstorm Sandy say they’re still waiting for help after more than three years of empty promises.

According to the city’s Office of Housing Recovery, most Sheepshead Bay residents have received their reimbursement checks and repairs have started on more than half of the neighborhood’s damaged homes. Mayor de Blasio also recently announced that all building affected by the storm would be repaired by the end of next year.

Still, the folks who live in the bungalow community between Brown and Batchelder streets have yet to see much progress. They contend Build it Back, the city entity that sets up homeowners with contractors, is far behind on its work.

“They’re just getting the measurements of our house now,” said Jennifer Fridstrom, a 36-year-old teacher whose home on Stanton Street, between Brown and Batchelder, was heavily damaged by Sandy. “They haven’t done any design plans yet.”

Sam Breidbart, a spokesman for Build it Back, said the structures in the bungalow community known as the “courts” are considered “some of the most vulnerable homes” in the neighborhood.

He did not directly address why it is taking so long to get repairs started, other than to say, “we aren’t so far away from” the design consultations needed to begin the process.

Constructed five feet below street level, the courts operate on private sewage systems – complicating repairs to homes that suffered major flood damage.

Fridstrom said she has received conflicting information about the future of her home. She was told in one letter that her home would be elevated. Another informed her house would be rebuilt.

“Why would you repair my house if you are going to replace it?” she asked.

Fridstrom is among residents who say they’ve run out of patience with Build it Back.

They point to abandoned homes that mar the area. In addition to dodging falling pieces of buildings, locals say they must avoid nasty smells, disease-ridden bugs, mold and the sewage puddles that constantly cover the walkways.

Fridstrom’s dog was recently diagnosed with mold allergies, which she believes is related to the abandoned house at nearby 2811 Brown Street.

The back of the decaying home at 2811 Brown Street. (Photo: Hayley Lind)
The back of the decaying home at 2811 Brown Street. (Photo: Hayley Lind)

There is old furniture and mold in the basement of the vacant home. The roof is decaying and the back of the house has fallen off, creating a ditch in the backyard.

Fridstrom predicted that it is only a matter of time before the residents feel the health effects, too.

“If it’s affecting her, then it’s affecting us as well, we just don’t realize it yet,” Fridstrom said.

Meanwhile, the vacant property on 31 Stanton Street is about ready to cave in.

“If it collapses, it’s going to knock this house down and that house is going to knock my house down,” said Jo-Anne Niemczyk, a retiree who lives on Stanton Street.

Mike Rodriguez, a retired school crossing guard who lives at 30 Stanton Street, said the owner of the abandoned neighboring home has not been seen for years.

“He’s not gonna make any efforts,” Rodriguez said.

Breidbart explained that the repair process for the abandoned houses is complicated. The homeowners, who left after Sandy, never registered with Build it Back, so they are not eligible to receive the funding available to Fridstrom and her neighbors, he said.

Breidbart added that residents who registered with Build it Back in 2013, should receive their design consultations soon. Then Build it Back will determine whether a house should be replaced or elevated on a case-by-case basis.

Fridstrom and her neighbors, meanwhile, still have to weather unsafe and unsanitary conditions for another year.

“I am angry that it is taking this long for Build it Back to get things going,” said Fridstrom. “It’s frustrating to live in places like this and be concerned for your health.”

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  1. This is a travesty! I live around the corner from “The Courts” and feel very sorry for those folks. The building in which I live is a co-op and we are still waiting for Build It Back as well to begin work. I know at one time, there was a huge sign put up on Emmons Ave. that The Corcoran Group was, I believe, trying to sell the entire bungalow colony. It would be very attractive to a developer, as the property literally sits next to the bay. Condos built there would be only the second complex built right on the bay. Le Mer Suites which is next to Il Fornetto is the only condo complex that sits right next to the bay.

  2. With all the medical insurance fraud cases that we have heard or read about, it is no wonder the government is very apprehensive in giving money to homeowners, who supposedly had their property damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. How can the government be certain that area homeowners are not trying to scam or grift them? Especially, when you consider the fact that Sheepshead Bay is known for grifting and fraud and has the most larcenies in South Brooklyn. Oh my shingles fell off or my boiler broke a half year after Sandy! The fact is, these people had damage to their property due to everyday wear and tear and not Sandy. I know at least ten people who are trying to scam the government. Believe me this group isn’t any different.

  3. I do feel for those homeowners in the bungalows that legitimately suffered from Sandy, and want them to have some relief. That said: You buy homes that were never meant for year-round habitation, are built below street level– without official or proper sewage systems– right next to a body of water… What do you think might happen in a worst case scenario? One time repairs or buyout, and then NO MORE when it happens again because location, location, location + common sense.

  4. Moreover, due to the location, the damage the homeowners suffered may not be Sandy’s fault. Condos and bungalows, which are situated near a body of water, tend to get flooded very often. Some, of course not all homeowners may be opportunists and claim that Sandy caused damage to their property, when in fact, the hurricane did not.

  5. These homes were not built below street level as the article states. The homes were there when Sheepshead Bay roads were dirt. The city raised the street level when the roads were paved.

    Basically, homes south of Avenue Z, which I think was the border of the racetrack, were now stuck below the new street level. You can see this in some of the larger homes along the 20 streets, not just in the bungalows. Some were raised, some weren’t. The city caused this problem, not the homeowners.

    Please learn some history about the Bay before you start throwing blame.

  6. just want to educate you a little with history of the courts, first off these homes where level with the streets. There were no stairs going down into the courts. In the 70’s the city raised the streets putting there home now below street level …second these homes where converted over 50 years ago to year round living. The city charges them water and sewage they pay taxes just like everyone else they have always maintained the sewers themselves but after sandy the sewers were so damaged with debri and sand that it’s just to big of a job … So the city should step in and help.

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