Displaced for a year and a half by Hurricane Ida, 70 families are set to be thrown out of their Lower Manhattan hotel at the end of the month as city aid ends.
The 70 families still at the Millennium Downtown hotel on Church Street, across from the Oculus, received letters under the doors of their rooms on Jan. 17 notifying them that their last day will be Feb. 28, following the conclusion of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding at the end of 2022.
The city had been footing the bill for roughly 100 units since January — but will stop before March, according to the letter.
The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) worked with the nonprofit Brooklyn Community Services to help those displaced by the storm find new homes — but residents told THE CITY that the nonprofit hasn’t been much help.
Most of the families have bounced around among three or four hotels since the storm on Sept. 1, 2021 brought record rainfall and flooding to the New York region. As of the storm’s one-year anniversary in September, 109 families were still living in emergency hotels.
“We’re fighting. We want to stay here in the hotel, but they don’t want to do that,” Eileen Bendoyro, 53, said Monday.
No Direction Home
Bendoyro first spoke with THE CITY in Nov. 2021 about her plight. Since being flooded out of her East Elmhurst apartment, she’s moved from the Radisson Hotel near Kennedy Airport to a hotel in Brooklyn, and then finally to the Millennium along with her 14-year-old son, who goes to school in Long Island City.
Many of the people living at the hotel told THE CITY that Brooklyn Community Services told them to reach out for help to their elected officials — at both their new and old addresses. Meanwhile, many said they haven’t even been shown any apartments to potentially move into.
City Councilmember Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan) first heard from some of the families last month, when they called his district office. Some Queens elected officials have tried to help as well, the residents said.
“They’ve been pulled around from location to location, and this just feels like it was the end of the road,” Marte told THE CITY. “There’s been a lack of updates, a lack of communication.”
HPD points to resolution for many. “In the 18 months since Ida, the city has provided emergency housing support to more than 380 families — fortunately, most of them have secured permanent housing,” said Diane Cho, a spokesperson for HPD.
“We have worked diligently with all of the remaining families to identify and offer every possible resource, including rental assistance and affordable housing options, and they will continue to have access to case management and emergency shelter to help them get back on their feet,” Cho said.
More than 300 families have found permanent housing through help from the city and nonprofit, or on their own, she said.
Those who are still in the hotels have been given affordable housing options that meet both their budget and borough preference, she added — in contrast to the experiences related to THE CITY.
‘They’re Just Playing With Us’
Jemma Beharry, 68, fled her flooded Woodside, Queens, basement the night of Ida and has lived in hotels ever since.
Her son, Reonard Beharry, 44, works in construction and teamed with their former landlord to fix up their apartment last year. But then HPD told them it was uninhabitable, they told THE CITY. She has been unable to find permanent housing ever since.
Beharry said she had two major strokes in late 2021 and 2022, and then a smaller stroke on Dec. 30 of last year.
“We’re traumatized,” she said.
Mirmahfuz Ahamed Sayeduzzaman now lives in the hotel with his wife, two sons, and his elderly mother after being displaced from their Woodside apartment. He said his “housing navigator,” a helper provided through BCS, told him to just go into a homeless shelter, since their family was too big to find an apartment — even though HPD approved his family for a four-bedroom apartment voucher.
“I haven’t seen any apartments,” said the 47-year-old home health care worker. “They’re just playing with us.”
After Ida, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an emergency task force to find ways to make basement apartments legal and safe from flooding. Of the 13 people who died in New York City due to the storm, 11 drowned in basement apartments, according to City Hall.
The Base Campaign, a coalition of advocacy groups promoting the legalization of basement apartments in NYC, estimated there were more than 300,000 basement apartments in 2021. The city puts that number at 50,000 units, which house around 100,000 people.
The previous administration floated a plan to notify basement-apartment dwellers when heavy rainfall is expected, and potentially require evacuation. But the status of that program is unclear under Mayor Eric Adams. A spokesperson did not respond to emails seeking information.
Comptroller Brad Lander released a plan last August that would provide more legal rights and help to residents of basement apartments. The plan proposed requiring landlords to register every basement and cellar apartment with a proposed “Basement Board” for tenants.
But the comptroller last summer also denied all 4,703 claims filed by homeowners for damage from the storm, with most blaming the city’s faulty sewers.
Those claims were denied based on precedent set by a 1907 case that ruled municipal governments aren’t liable for damage from “extraordinary and excessive rainfalls,” even if they put the sewer system above capacity.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, both Democrats representing Manhattan, introduced a bill last spring to legalize basement apartments, but it has stalled.