The residents of The Hole, a small neighborhood on the northwestern edge of Lindenwood that sits more than 10 feet below street level, are no strangers to flooding.
Overflows that continue to burble up from the ground over two weeks after a rainstorm, on the other hand, are a new phenomenon.
A neighborhood with a history of neglect, The Hole lies in a 12-block basin that lacks a sewage system and is largely without street drainage. Though the city has begun the process of installing limited drains in the neighborhood, it has stalled on taking the steps to connect the area to the sewer system for over 15 years. As city officials continue to reckon with the fact that the limited capacity of New York’s beleaguered, antiquated sewer system led to Hurricane Ida’s fatal flooding, residents in the neighborhood continue to live with the storm’s after-effects.
Some residents are hopeful that the newfound pressure on the city to modernize its sewer system could kickstart a focus on their neighborhood. Others, who have grown accustomed to having their infrastructure needs summarily ignored by city agencies as the surrounding area has developed, do not believe that the storm will help change conditions.
For its part, the Department of Environmental Protection did not recognize the instances of recent extended flooding as being related to the storm. The agency pegged the residents’ recent problems as resulting from systemic groundwater flooding, rather than the hurricane.
The residents beg to differ.
“It usually would go down quick if we got some water in there,” said Ruben Garcia, a homeowner who’s been living on the Queens side of the neighborhood for 52 years.
Garcia has had flooding in his basement before but nothing quite like what Ida caused. Years ago Garcia’s daughters slept in the bottom floor of his house, which has intermittently been flooded by groundswells of water for two weeks after the recent storm.
“The last 10 years it’s gotten worse,” he said of flooding on his block.
Garcia owns a water pump and had been continuously blasting pools of water out of his basement, as of last Thursday, but every time he did so, the water would bubble up through a small opening in the concrete in his basement and flood the floor with around a half-inch of water.
A contractor whom the DEP sent out to inspect the flooding last Thursday pointed out that it appeared Garcia’s basement was below the water table, the level at which the pores and fractures of the ground are saturated with water.
“If you’re in your water table, no matter what, the water table’s the water table,” said the contractor, who declined to identify himself further.
The contractor concluded that without a drain in the vicinity of the house that could lower the level of groundwater, there was not much he could do to help.
“It’s on the DEP to solve the groundwater situation,” he said.
The New York Times reported in 2004 that the agency was considering incorporating The Hole into the sewer system, but the area’s low elevation proved an obstacle.
“The area is situated below the city’s sewer network, which drains by gravity, so therefore the whole area would need to be elevated in order to tie into the drainage system,” said DEP spokesperson Douglas Auer.
Auer said that DEP engineers have been considering longer-term solutions for the area, as well as short-term relief projects, but did not respond to the Chronicle’s request for specifics on what those plans entail.
In 2019, the Department of Design and Construction sent out a request for proposal on a project that set out to develop a plan to “alleviate the existing poorly paved roadways with sub-standard drainage systems” in “the jewel streets area” of The Hole. But the agency currently lists the project as “on hold.” A spokesperson said it was not a project the DDC could act on until the DEP and Department of Transportation decided how to proceed.
The mayor also put a $30,779 water main project for the jewel streets area in his capital budget for the 2020 fiscal year. According to the budget, the project to replace “chronically failing components” had been originally created in 2007 and delayed for an undisclosed reason for over 10 years. Construction is slated to start in June 2022 and end in 2024, according to the document.
In the wake of Ida, prolonged flooding was widespread in the area. Garcia’s experience of seeing floodwaters emerge from the base of his house was shared by his brother who lives on the same block. Elsewhere full blocks of the neighborhood were submerged.
Anthony Kinard, who lives at the intersection of Ruby Street and Blake Avenue, described the flooding as emerging from “under the building — through the baseboards and everything.”
Garcia’s brother, who lives a few doors down on 78th Street and didn’t want to identify himself, was able to stave off the waters from rising back up into his finished basement in the days after Ida, but only because he was able to install a sump pump under the foundation of his house. Without that equipment, he said, the water would continue to ascend through the floor like his brother’s house.
The floodwaters didn’t make it into the home of Rock Medina, who’s been living two blocks over from Garcia for 20 years, but they did create a pool on the street in front of his house that was still around 6-inches deep as of Thursday.
“They’re trying to get people out so they can invest in here, but I’m not moving out,” Medina told the Chronicle.
Montas Exume, who lives on Amber Street just off Linden Boulevard in the southern part of the neighborhood, is one of the few residents who has a catch basin installed in front of his house. It didn’t save the first floor from being submerged in about 2 feet of water. He said the drain is connected to a pump that needs to be turned on in order to suck the water out of the road. After Ida, the DEP waited two days to turn on the pump, while the dirty water sat in his house’s entryway.
The poor conditions did get on the radar of Felicia Singh, the Democratic candidate for City Council District 32, which overlaps with about four blocks of the neighborhood. Singh encountered the flooding while canvassing and connected it to infrastructure inequities in the district that she has spotlighted as a priority for her campaign.
“‘The Hole’ is an example of environmental racism. It is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE that folks have had to live in this way. No more,” she tweeted.
She is one of a long line of people to call attention to the flooding over the years. One neighborhood resident declined an interview with the Chronicle because he was tired of seeing media come in to take photos of the neighborhood’s poor condition only to be met with silence from the city.
“We’re not going to get a sewer. You got people coming down here taking pictures and nothing happens. All you get is the DEP coming down to break everybody’s balls. What good is that to me?” said the man, who did not identify himself.
The road next to his house was swallowed by stagnant water that had been coated in a thick mat of algae.