Elected officials participated in a prayer service on Saturday in remembrance of the arson fire that claimed 87 lives 33 years ago. Back in 1990, an unemployed alien by the name of Julio Gonzalez took a dollar’s worth of gasoline and poured in on the doorway of an illegal Bronx night club and lit a fire that killed 87 people, who were mostly poor and Latino patrons. He did this to get back at his ex-girlfriend. The irony of that is that she was one of the two survivors of the fire. The building was racked with violations of no fire exits, alarms or a working sprinkler system. One of the property managers was married to a popular actress at the time, which brought an additional media spin to the tragedy.
There was another tragedy that took place nearly on this day in a Harlem townhouse in 2018. The location was being used to film a movie by the name of “Motherless Brooklyn.” The March 22 fire erupted in the basement of the location and took the life of Firefighter Michael Davidson. The FDNY deemed the fire to have originated in the basement and the cause being the boiler. The fire marshal assigned to the investigation did not concur with the call and noted electrical and construction issues, as well as the sprinkler system not working at the time of the fire but was working two weeks prior by fire inspectors.
It would be hoped that we learned from these tragedies and work not to create a situation that might cause another one. Well, our elected officials have found a way to do just that.
The governor and the mayor are endorsing the concept of allowing landlords to convert their basements into rental units. The NYS Senate’s Housing Committee is attempting to clear the way for the city to regulate them by forgoing established building and fire code regulations. Hmmm, seems like history is going to repeat itself.
Now just imagine if the buildings and fire departments were to do their duty. They would be coming into private one- and two-family homes to inspect the entire home for violations (and fines) prior to approving a basement rental. The renovation costs if done by a licensed professional and done to code would out-weight the benefit of the rental unit. NYC Housing Preservation & Development conducted a pilot program in East New York in 2018 that failed miserably. Out of the 100 homes that participated in the program, only five remain. So is that it? No way.
That hasn’t stopped the advocacy group called Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone, or BASE, from pushing the idea by playing the race card in saying this would help those “disadvantaged communities” who are burdened with high mortgage costs and desperately need additional sources of income. They even advocate for homeowners to be protected from legal consequences if they choose to upgrade their basement and cellar units. To clarify this idea, these homeowners would have to comply with current regulations and codes.
Besides the building and fire safety concerns, what about the health aspects of living in a cramped, damp and moldy environment below grade, as well as the prospect of flooding? The last two major storms in New York City took dozens of lives, many of people in basements.
With all these issues one would think this idea in moot but not in this socialist-democratic state and city government. Never say never. The governor and the mayor are desperate to shift the public’s attention away from the runaway crime rate that was the result of Albany’s no-bail reform. They create an atmosphere of urgency of needing housing for the newcomers to our state like the “asylum seekers” (aka illegal aliens) who have little to no income prospects. New York being the Cadillac of the welfare system, will fund these basement rentals (e.g., section 8), ensuring a strong voter base for their re-election bids. Seems one thing has to be overlooked: the building, health and fire codes.
Can it happen that our elected officials would direct government agencies to turn a blind eye to the rules? The NYPD is currently doing it with the fare beaters in our subway system. Thousands are turnstile jumping on a daily basis with a trickle NYPD response in issued summonses. The police stand next to the token booth instead of the turnstiles to avoid involvement with the public so as not to be accused of targeting certain groups of disadvantage riders.
Why don’t we go after the No. 1 slumlord in the city? Oh, that is the New York City Housing Authority. The behemoth of failed government involvement is nothing more than a money pit that places one and a half million disadvantaged New Yorkers in deplorable living conditions.
I guess the silver lining if this idiotic idea becomes reality, FDNY firefighters will be prerforming many heroic acts and rescues of those living in basements. I pray that the medals will be awarded to them and not to their next of kin.
William Kregler is a former housing police officer and firefighter and retired fire marshal who was a candidate for Queens borough president in 2017 and lives in Woodside.
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