With four months left in office, Mayor de Blasio said this week he has no plan for dealing with the combination of poor drainage infrastructure and illegal apartments that resulted in 13 deaths in the city from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa, the top two men hoping to take his job in January, don’t have that luxury.
De Blasio said in the near future the city would increase warnings and forced evacuations from illegal apartments in endangered areas, but he stopped short of saying he would increase enforcement against the illegal dwellings.
Adams in published and broadcast reports, and Sliwa in those and a telephone interview with the Chronicle, said long-term — and expensive — efforts must be made to improve stormwater infrastructure and increase affordable and legal housing options.
Democrat Adams said Ida was a call to take climate change seriously. And he said building up the shoreline is not enough.
“This storm and water damage that we witnessed didn’t come from a full moon or a high tide, it came from rain ...” Adams told CNBC. “We were flooded in areas that had never witnessed flooding before.”
He said one problem is that the city at the moment is building out its sewer system under standards that now are old and outdated.
Republican Sliwa, in a press conference streamed on YouTube, visited Forest Hills. He walked along a common driveway behind a set of houses where people had been taking ruined possessions out of their basements.
The high water mark from Ida was at the level of Sliwa’s shoulder.
He reached into an undersized and clogged storm drain.
“The city knew these drains were inadequate when there were floods here in 2007,” he said.
At least five of the fatal incidents in the city took place in illegally converted apartments. De Blasio said he prefers stepping up future warning efforts rather than cracking down on violations as so many people with low incomes rely on basement apartments and other conversions.
Adams, like the mayor, said it will take a dedicated effort to address the combination.
Adams’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comments, but expanding on the de Blasio administration’s efforts to legalize and manage basement apartments is mentioned in the housing platform on his website.
“[B]asement apartments are still illegal, despite their common use elsewhere,” his website says. He said legalizing them, along with allowing the rental of accessory units or “granny flats,” could add hundreds of thousands of affordable units.
Sliwa told the Chronicle he has never agreed with the move to legalize basement apartments.
“I’ve always been opposed to that,” he said. “It’s very dangerous.” He said the reduction of building inspections across the board forced by the pandemic has made it more so, adding fires are every bit as much a concern as flooding in terms of being able to get out.
“They were never meant to be lived in,” he said. “People do live in them — I’ve certainly had that in my extended family. People have broken the rules for years and they want to legalize it and normalize it.”
De Blasio last week first said the city was misled by weather forecasters about the seriousness of storm Ida.
Others subsequently pointed out that the National Weather Service on Sept. 1 warned city officials that “Significant & life-threatening flooding is forecast ...” with three to eight inches of rain “especially in urban areas and areas of steep terrain.”