On October 30, 2012, Amy Chang walked up her front stoop, pushed open the door and burst into tears.
Every piece of her furniture was slammed up against the far wall. Her feet stood in an inch of water, teasing to an 8-foot-high flood below. All of her family’s belongings were scattered, soaked and destroyed.
It was the day after Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island. Twenty-three of her neighbors had died—the highest number of storm-related deaths in any borough—and countless homes were in ruins.
Standing in the foyer, Ms. Chang barely recognized her surroundings. It was the two-family house her mother had bought with her life savings when she moved her children from Hong Kong to New York. It was the house where Ms. Chang had grown up. The house where she raised her own family.
The house she had called home for nearly four decades.
“After 30-something years, you have everything there,” Ms. Chang, 51, said last week during a telephone interview from her temporary hotel housing in Manhattan, where she and her six family members have lived for the past 11 months. “It’s been devastating. It’s been really, really hard. It’s been heartbreak.”
In just one day, a home was ripped away from the Chang family. But now, thanks to Habitat For Humanity and the sale of an East End estate, they are getting it back.
In June, Habitat for Humanity took over the title of a circa-1974, 1,200-square-foot house on .29 acre in Water Mill after its late owner, Sarah Rubenstein, bequeathed it to the organization. The teardown hit the market for its land value—$1.45 million—exclusively with Douglas Elliman Real Estate agents Priscilla Garston and Alyra Hoffman, and is now in contract for nearly its full asking price.
All money earned in the sale will help rebuild homes on Staten Island, according to Neil Hetherington, chief executive officer of Habitat For Humanity New York City.
“We’re not in the business of renting homes. As soon as we received the title to it, we put it on the market,” Mr. Hetherington said last week during a telephone interview. “It’s just wonderful how somebody can leave a tremendous legacy to the community. It’s heartwarming, really.”
A few weeks after the storm, Habitat volunteers descended upon 68 Staten Island homes, ridding them of any water-saturated materials susceptible to rot, Mr. Hetherington explained. Then, this past spring, the organization transitioned into the demolishing and rebuilding stage, which costs nearly $100,000 per house. The Water Mill sale will, therefore, benefit about 10 homes, plus repairs to houses that are still standing, such as Ms. Chang’s.
“It’s rare when you work on selling a home that the proceeds are going to such a good cause,” Ms. Garston said last week during a telephone interview, declining to identify the buyer. “It was a completely unique experience and I had never heard of it happening before. And it’s particularly meaningful to us because it’s Habitat. It’s all about homes. Hurricane Sandy touched us all. As you can imagine, it feels good.”
The rebuild is part of the 30th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, involving more than 1,000 volunteers renovating homes in Queens and Staten Island, starting Sunday, October 6. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are slated to view the Staten Island homes on Friday, October 11, before the project’s closing ceremonies at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees, which are open to the public.
“I have a man crush on him. It’s true, he is such an amazing man,” Mr. Hetherington said of Mr. Carter, laughing. “I know that we, and this project, change the lives of families, but I also know they change our lives even more so. There is a physical manifestation of love when we rebuild their home. But they give us a new world view. They give us an inspiring reason to carry on and to build more homes. They affect as much change as we do for them.”
So long as there is a need to rebuild, and the funds to do so, Habitat will continue to work on Staten Island, he said. As of now, there is no end date in sight.
But all Ms. Chang can do is look forward, all due to the generosity of a former Water Mill resident, a former President and his wife, an organization based on helping those in need and countless volunteers.
“When I look back, I am scared of what happened,” Ms. Chang said. “I’m in disbelief. When Katrina hit, I remember watching the news and I was sad, but I moved on. But oh my God, now I understand. I understand it and I’m so appreciative that Habitat is coming to fix my house.”
She paused, and continued, “At the same time, I still cry when I look around my neighborhood. But things happen in life and we have to try to look on the brighter side. We’ve been in a hotel for 11 months. We just want to come home.”
To learn more, visit habitatnyc.org.