Three weeks after the remnants of Hurricane Ida triggered torrential rains that destroyed parts of their homes, a group of Queens homeowners accuse the city of failing to respond to decades-long complaints about flooding issues who made their properties worthless.
About 20 homeowners who live on three blocks in a lower part of Hollis staged a protest outside Queens Borough Hall on Tuesday. They argued that climate change, coupled with the swampy environment of southeast Queens, has created a huge infrastructure challenge that demands higher expertise in the form of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Even then, they conceded, their flooding problems date back decades and ultimately might not be solved by even the best engineered solutions. In 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged nearly $ 2 billion in improving sewers to alleviate flooding in South East Queens. But many homeowners were skeptical of how long it would take before they felt the impact of these ongoing projects. One by one, they took turns telling horror stories about the water damage they had suffered over the years. When it rains, neighbors collectively rush outside to clean the gutters. Most have their own sump pumps.
“If they can’t fix it, buy back the owners. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that,” said Amit Shivprasad, whose family owns a house on 183rd Street near 90th Avenue where two tenants , a woman and her son, drowned in the cellar.
A buyout would not be without precedent. In 2013, following Hurricane Sandy, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a program to purchase flood-prone homes, primarily on Staten Island. The state continued to spend $ 655 million federal assistance to buy more than 600 homes.
Shivprasad said part of the cost of owning homes vulnerable to flooding is constant stress.
âYou can’t go on vacation. You can’t sleep at night when it rains. That’s how sad it has become,â he said.
The September 1 storm produced record amounts of precipitation that killed 13 New York City residents, 11 of whom resided in basements. Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged. In the aftermath of the disaster, President Biden approved New York and New Jersey for federal disaster relief. City and state officials have pledged to help residents apply for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but many homeowners are learning that allocating government funds is more complicated and limited than they hadn’t imagined it.
Asked about residents’ complaints that they were being forgotten, the mayor of Blasio said on Tuesday that city canvassers had knocked on tens of thousands of doors and his office would help any resident who needed help.
He said FEMA had already received 31,000 applications from city residents.
“Those checks are already starting to move,” de Blasio said at a press briefing earlier today, also at Queens Borough Hall.
The mayor said the city will tackle the impact of climate change by releasing a set of new practices that will include travel bans and basement evacuations. Full recommendations from a city task force are expected to be released on Monday, de Blasio said.
The owners’ rally comes in the midst of Climate Week, a period in which Mayor de Blasio seeks to showcase his administration’s efforts to tackle climate change and sustainability, and as it turns out he is putting highlighting projects in Queens as part of a tour of the five boroughs.
Hours earlier, the mayor announced the finalization of an agreement that would bring renewable energy sources from upstate New York and Canada. His administration has pledged to power government buildings and most vehicles with renewable energy by 2025, an action he said would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.
âIt’s a moment of transformation,â said de Blasio.
Among those who joined the protest were several homeowners from southern Jamaica who suffered damage from another type of flood – that of raw sewage – in 2019. The city initially blamed the flooding and contamination of 127 homes with cooking grease that had been dumped into a sewer. , but later determined the cause was a broken pipe which left the city to blame.
The incident confirmed the long-held belief of many residents, most of whom are people of color, that the city has failed to maintain and modernize the region’s infrastructure.
Aracelia Cook, a 63-year-old Queens resident, is among the landlords who have fought with the town to pay damages.
She said that following Ida’s recent flooding, she visited the affected neighborhoods and started talking to residents. This led to conversations about the organization.
âWe were doing more important things than that,â she said. “This is just the beginning.”