Mayor de Blasio now plans to evacuate tenants from illegal basement apartments vulnerable to the kind of flooding that swept through the city, killing 13 people when the remnants of Hurricane Ida lashed the Big Apple.
But he said Friday that officials won’t evict tenants from the substandard dwellings afterward, effectively turning a blind eye to the hazardous housing.
During a news conference at which he acknowledged that having an “absolute accounting” of the city’s estimated 50,000-plus illegal basement apartments — many of which potentially lack adequate escape routes — is “not something we thought of previously,” de Blasio said officials have “got to have a clear database to work from.”
De Blasio — under fire for failing to prepare before the deadly storm struck Wednesday night — said that “at least 100,000 people, and there’s a strong possibility there’s a lot more, are living in those apartments.”
“So many people who end up in the illegal basements are fearful to communicate, for fear they might be evicted or, worse in their mind, deported,” de Blasio said.
“If we communicate, we can really convince people that they will not be evicted, that they will not be put in any harm because of their documentation status, at least we have the opportunity then to get people to safety when a situation like this occurs.”
“We need places for people to live. Obviously, we need them to be safe,” he said.
The mayor also said a pilot program by his administration to bring illegal apartments up to code largely failed because it’s “very difficult, physically” and “very costly” to the property owners.
“So we have to figure out a way forward,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to say, ‘Let’s just have no one live in them,’ because I don’t know where all those folks are going to end up who need a place to live.”
City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) blasted de Blasio for “condoning illegal apartments,” saying it “sent a bad message” and “set a dangerous precedent.”
Holden also said enforcement of building codes by de Blasio’s administration “has been a disaster” and he blamed Hizzoner mayor for the deaths of at least 11 people who drowned in their basement apartments Wednesday night.
“The mayor has blood on his hands,” Holden said.
Holden, an outspoken opponent of illegal basement apartments, said they’re often the scene of fatal fires.
“We hear every year of people dying in basements. Now we have this tragedy with Tropical Storm Ida,” he said.
“These basement apartments are death traps.”