Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 95, Issue 5, pp 703–715 | Cite as

Public Housing on the Periphery: Vulnerable Residents and Depleted Resilience Reserves post-Hurricane Sandy

  • Diana HernándezEmail author
  • David Chang
  • Carole Hutchinson
  • Evanah Hill
  • Amenda Almonte
  • Rachel Burns
  • Peggy Shepard
  • Ingrid Gonzalez
  • Nora Reissig
  • David Evans


Hurricane Sandy was the greatest natural disaster to ever impact public housing residents in New York City. It affected approximately 80,000 residents in 400 buildings in 33 developments throughout the city. The storm left residents without power, heat, or running water, yet many chose not to evacuate. This qualitative study was conducted to understand the impact of Sandy among this socially, physically, and geographically vulnerable population. It is the first known study to examine the impact of disasters in high-rise, high-density public housing as a unique risk environment. Findings demonstrate (1) broad impacts to homes, health and access to resources, (2) complex evacuation decision-making, (3) varied sources of support in the response and recovery phases, and (4) lessons learned in preparedness. Results are contextualized within an original conceptual framework—“resilience reserve”—that explains the phenomenon of delayed recovery stemming from enactments of resilience to manage chronic hardship leaving vulnerable populations without the requisite capacity to take protective action when facing acute adversity. We discuss recommendations to establish and replenish the resilience reserve that include personal, institutional, and structural facets.


Resilience Public housing Health Disaster preparedness Natural disasters Poverty Vulnerable populations 



The authors wish to express their profound gratitude to Ausama Abdelhadi for providing editorial comment and refining the presentation of ideas in this manuscript. We also wish to acknowledge Ogonnaya Dotson-Newman, formerly at WE ACT for helping to organize the data collection efforts and Thomas Matte, formerly of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, NY USA for serving as an adviser to the project. We also wish to thank Chris Vacchio for his collaboration on the map featured in this article. This project was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (Award HITEP130009) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Award P30ES009089).


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Hernández
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Chang
    • 2
  • Carole Hutchinson
    • 1
  • Evanah Hill
    • 1
  • Amenda Almonte
    • 1
  • Rachel Burns
    • 1
  • Peggy Shepard
    • 2
  • Ingrid Gonzalez
    • 3
  • Nora Reissig
    • 4
  • David Evans
    • 1
  1. 1.Sociomedical Sciences DepartmentColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.WE ACT for Environmental JusticeNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Mental HygieneNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Formerly at Family Services DepartmentNew York City Housing AuthorityNew YorkUSA

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