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Winter looming, New York rushes to repair homes hit by superstorm Sandy

Hiring private contractors to repair homes quickly, New York responds to disaster relief in its own entrepreneurial way. Will the city be able to get people back in their homes before year's end?

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Marc Alvarez (second from l.) talked with a flood insurance adjuster last month outside his home on Staten Island in New York City. The house was wrecked by superstorm Sandy.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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New York is writing its own chapter on how a big city can respond to a massive disaster – superstorm Sandy – that has made tens of thousands of homes unfit to live in.

The title of the chapter: Let business do it.

For the short term, the city's largest effort involves putting together, at the federal government's expense, private-sector teams of electricians, plumbers, and carpenters who will repair homes while city inspectors monitor the work.

New York is also trying smaller efforts to get people housed, such as recruiting real estate management companies to find empty apartments. And the city has embraced online services such as Airbnb, which is connecting warmhearted New Yorkers who have a spare room with those in need of a warm bed.

All this is being done in a New York minute.

Unlike New Orleans, when it was trying to recover from hurricane Katrina, New York has cold, snowy weather bearing down on it. So it's trying to move fast, with a goal of getting as many people as possible back in their homes by the end of the year.

"We are breaking new ground here. It has never been done this way before," says Corinne Packard, an expert on postcatastrophe reconstruction and an assistant professor at the New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate. "And true to Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg's philosophy, it is private-sector-driven."

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