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

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In 2005 after Katrina, New Orleans endured months of bickering over who was at fault and whether to rebuild. "In New Orleans there were many missteps," says Wellington Reiter, an architect who at the time was at Tulane University in the city.

Back then, urban planners and advisory groups of architects met with neighborhood community groups in planning sessions, Ms. Packard recalls. "In New York, I haven't seen a plan," she says. "But maybe this is the right way to do this quickly."

New York officials quickly decided that they did not want to set up "Katrina trailers" or other forms of temporary housing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had brought in 145,000 small white mobile homes after Katrina, which were controversial.

In New York, "the way we look at it is that the best temporary housing is permanent housing," says Cas Holloway, the city's deputy mayor for operations.

City officials also realized that they needed to find a more efficient way to get licensed electricians, plumbers, and carpenters to people.

"If everyone picked up the phone and dialed for an electrician or a plumber, you will have an immediate market failure," Mr. Holloway says. Instead, the city decided to hire six very large private contractors that would be divided among the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

"With that kind of efficiency, you will get it done cheaper and faster than if everyone has to do it on their own," the deputy mayor says. As of late November, there were 7,500 requests for so-called Rapid Repairs teams.

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