(CNSNews.com) - Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan -- who is now leading the long-term response to Hurricane Sandy -- says recovering from the superstorm could mean "buyouts" of storm-damaged homes, turning some neighborhoods into parks, and "building smarter."
The goal is to protect against the next storm, Donovan told CNN on Thursday: "That's going to mean hardening our infrastructure. It's going to mean thinking differently about our communities. And we need to start that right away."
Asked what the "thinking differently" process involves, Donovan said, "Look, there are already conversations going on in neighborhoods in Staten Island, along the Jersey show, in Long Island, about the potential for buyouts and turning what were residential communities into parks and other things.
"But this is not just those types of decisions. It's whether we elevate our homes. It's whether we invest in moving boilers and generators up to the top floors. There's a story about Bellevue Hospital here in New York, where for two days workers carried fuel oil up to the generator on the top of the building just to keep the generators going for those patients. We have to change those kinds of rules."
The "tough decisions" won't be made by government alone, but with input from local residents, Donovan said: "So we've started community meetings in communities throughout the region to talk about these tough decisions. And we need different building codes. We need to talk about things like buyouts. But it has to be a process that brings the community together to talk about those conversations."
Donovan described Sandy as one of the country's worst disasters, and he says the Obama administration has "reacted more quickly to this storm than any storm in history."
"In just a month, we have over 500,000 families that have already registered for aid. We have over a billion dollars that's already gone to families to help them feed their kids, to find places to sleep while they're out of their homes. So that is happening at a speed that it's never happened before."
President Obama has asked Congress to appropriate $60.4 billion for storm-affected states, with most presumably going to New York and New Jersey. The request has been rolled into the so-far nonproductive "fiscal cliff" talks between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama.