Mayor Eric Adams made a brief stop on his way to JFK Airport Wednesday afternoon to a small neighborhood on the border of Queens and Brooklyn known as The Hole.
It was his last media appearance in the city before a trip south of the border, as the mayor continued to tamp back criticism over his administration’s response to the rainstorm that had flooded the city the previous Friday. Adamswas at The Hole specifically to tout sewer upgrades the city had made in March.
“Because of that you’re standing on dry ground,” Adams said in front of a photo of the same intersection three weeks after Ida in 2021. “The water has not gone away, but we’re not going away.”
But some water still stood in the intersection, and the lingering stench of sewage hovered in the air.
Even after small bouts of rain, streets in The Hole fill with standing water. The area is low-lying, built atop a marshland and filled with many homes that were never connected to the city’s sewer network.
After Friday’s historic deluge, with more than 8 inches of rain in some areas,
residents dealt with floodwaters all weekend long — pumping it from their homes and navigating around it on the street — and the recent upgrades the mayor praised were clearly unable to whisk away all the water that pooled up.
“I strongly say there are no differences,” said Mohammed Doha, 52, whose first floor building took on several inches of water on Friday. “Here, if they don’t put in the sewer system, nothing is going to be resolved.”
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Rit Aggarwala conceded the upgrades were more of a bandaid before longer-term solutions could be implemented.
“Did it solve the flooding problem on Friday? No,” he said, adding, “It drained out relatively quickly.”
The DEP is considering future sewer upgrades and the installation of natural systems that can absorb, retain and carry water.
Meanwhile, the New York City Housing Preservation and Development is working to create a neighborhood plan for the 12 blocks known as the Jewel Streets that make up The Hole, as well as the surrounding, wider area that’s wedged between Conduit Avenue and Shore Parkway.
The plan, expected out next summer, is for future housing and retail development, plus improvements to streets, transit and green space in a part of the city rife with highly trafficked corridors, vacant and overgrown lots and a dumping problem — as well as a propensity to flood and significant vulnerability to heat.
‘We Were Swimming’
For years, residents of The Hole have been left to their own devices to jerry rig a series of water pumps, siphoning electricity from lamp poles and pumping water from the intersection into nearby lots. Some residents said they thought their ad hoc pump system was more effective than the DEP’s upgrade, from which they noticed nominal improvements.
Danny Budhu, 37, who has lived for the past decade in the neighborhood, said he missed work Friday because he was unable to leave his house, which was surrounded on all sides by more than a foot of water. He ventured out briefly in a galoshes, and the water quickly breached them. It took more than 24 hours for the waters to subside enough for him to leave.
“We were swimming. You needed marine equipment to get through here,” he said. Still, he was hopeful that the mayor’s latest visit would yield results. “I’m sure he’s doing everything he can, but I mean, I hope we can get things done quicker, more efficiently.”
But others, like 61-year-old Perry, who declined to give his last name, were less optimistic.
“It’s the same, the flooding was exactly the same,” he said. “Nobody cares about down here. Because when the water comes, nobody comes through.”
Perry moved into an RV in The Hole after deciding he could save more money investing in an RV than paying most of his income on a small room he was renting nearby. Waters came up more than a foot nearly to the stoop of his RV. But he made it through, mostly dry, save for a leak by his air conditioner.
“It didn’t really bother me since I’ve lived with this water now for four years,” he said.
‘You Need a Boat’
Several hours after the mayor left The Hole, HPD convened a community workshop at a nearby school in East New York to get input about what locals wanted to see in the neighborhood plan — with a specific focus on a vacant, city-owned 17-acre lot just south of The Hole that sits above the floodplain.
“The long term goals, what we’re heading towards in terms of really the desired outcomes here, are seeing the city-owned site redeveloped for community benefit, which could be affordable housing, jobs and open space,” Sarit Platkin, director of neighborhood planning at HPD, told THE CITY Wednesday evening. “In the Jewel Streets, that’s where we want to talk to residents to understand desired outcomes for the future of that area for a mix of improved resiliency and future housing.”
Many residents welcomed the extra attention and possible improvements, but remained skeptical. They’d heard city promises before. Proposals for elevating streets and installing sewers dated as far back as the Giuliani administration, with the plan included in the city’s capital budget for at least 20 years.
“First of all, the sewerage system needs to go in. Without that, no plan is going to work,” Doha said.
Debra Ack of the East New York Community Land Trust — a community group that has been working with the residents of The Hole for over a year to agitate for improvements — called the mayor’s visit to the area “a pit stop” on the way to the airport, and agreed with Doha.
“There should be no development without infrastructure,” Ack said. “Come when it’s raining, it’s flooding, and you need a boat to get around.”
The DEP is planning to take a “layered” approach to managing water in the neighborhood, using a series of both constructed and natural interventions, according to Wendy Sperduto, the DEP’s director of capital program management for the bureau of water and sewer operations.
She said there could be more sanitary and storm sewers to come, as well as “green infrastructure” like porous pavement and blue belts, which are drainage systems that enhance natural watersheds to manage stormwater. There are blue belts in Staten Island, but in no other borough yet.
Buyouts for homeowners in repeatedly flooded areas could also be part of the long-term plan, though there is no active program for that. The homeowner would relocate and the city would acquire the land to return it to nature. Setting up the shape of such a program is an initiative under the long-term sustainability agenda known as PlaNYC, released in April.
Ashley Saunders, a renter who lives in The Hole and gave feedback at the Wednesday evening event, was on board with that.
“To be honest,” she said, “they just need to return it to the environment.”