Basement Renters Fear Tropical Storm Ida Repeat after City’s Nor’easter Advisory

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Hurricane Ida, Media, Queens, NY, Weather

By Jessica Easthope

It’s a scene fresh in the minds of New Yorkers – streets flooded, apartments destroyed and people left with nothing – and now fears are repeating.

Last month, Tropical Storm Ida swept through the area leaving behind a trail of damage. Thirteen people across the city died, 11 were Queens residents who drowned at home in illegally-converted basement apartments.

“People are very afraid, especially immigrants,” said Angel Diaz, a social justice and housing minister and advocate. “They don’t have the resources and many lost their belongings. They don’t have documentation. They need housing and many times they have large families.”

It’s estimated there are around 200,00 illegal basement apartments in New York City. Residents, often undocumented immigrants struggling to overcome skyrocketing rent and the city’s housing crisis are being driven below ground but as weather events become increasingly dangerous due to climate change they’re trapped.

“They have no choice, often paying exorbitant rent and help landlords legalize those apartments,” Angel said.

During this nor’easter, city officials advised residents of basement apartments to be ready “to move to a higher floor during periods of heavy rain” but social justice and housing advocates say it’s not that simple.

“It’s a last minute decision – where is a family supposed to go,” Angel asked.

And after Ida, the city began taking inventory.

“It is absolutely moving right now. It is a big undertaking. Our perfect world here is to catalog each and every basement apartment,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Mayor de Blasio said the count is expected to be finished in six to eight months – ahead of next hurricane season.