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Majority of Ida's NYC Victims Died in Illegally Converted Basements, Cellars: City

The state's attorney general wants New York City to offer emergency housing vouchers to anyone in unregulated basement units

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Neighbors gathered late Friday to light candles and lay flowers for a mother and son from Queens who lost their lives in Ida's fury.

"Nothing could prepare you for this... we've been living here for so many years, [we] never expected this," one Hollis woman said.

The 43-year-old woman and her 22-year-old son died in an illegally converted basement unit, as did eight of the other victims elsewhere in Queens and neighboring Brooklyn, according to the city.

The Department of Buildings confirmed Friday that five of the six buildings where New Yorkers lost their lives had illegal basement or cellar conversions.

"Our team is tirelessly conducting inspections at over a thousand properties across the five boroughs in the aftermath of Wednesday’s storm, and we’ll continue doing everything we can to keep New Yorkers safe in their residences," DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said.

A mother and son were both killed in basement flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Greg Cergol reports.

Basement dwellings have become one of the primary focuses of city and state officials eager to prepare for the next Ida-level event. With so many of the city's basement apartments ruined by the onslaught of rain, the city's mayor is zeroing in on more drastic measures to protect the vulnerable.

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his NYC Climate-Driven Rain Response plan Friday. That plan includes a task force, more warnings, and an increased focus on helping families who live in basement apartments.

He hopes not to have to execute door-to-door evacuations regularly but said he believes telling people the city might have to do that improves weather awareness.

Housing advocates, like Chhaya CDC Executive Director Annetta Seecharan, are calling for a city-wide basement apartment conversion program. There's already a pilot program in East New York, but it's budget was drastically slashed during the pandemic.

"What needs to happen, immediately, is the city needs to move toward a city-wide program that incentivizes, and again that doesn't penalize, to bring these apartments up to code quickly," Seecharran said.

"It wouldn't prevent the climate disaster, but when the next climate disaster happens people can escape."

This week's catastrophic flash flooding has led to a new city plan to combat extreme weather. Gilma Avalos reports.

The basement dwellings have become a focus of the state attorney general's as well. On Friday, Tish James urged the city to issued a special emergency housing vouched to New Yorkers living in unregulated basement apartments.

"To prevent these problems in the future, we must also ensure that basement units are safe for human occupancy and regularly inspected. Overcoming the twin threats of climate change and a housing crisis will not be simple, but we must ensure measures are in place to protect our neighbors and prevent a future catastrophe," James said in a statement.

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