More than a month after Ida, a family that lost everything still has no home

Oscar Gomez had seen a basement flyer on a lamppost in Queens.

In 2011, he was in the hunt for residences for himself, his sister and her 10-year-old daughter Litzy, who helped elevate Gomez. The three lived with totally different members of their extended family in a house they rented in Woodside. Nonetheless the proprietor supplied the property and wished them gone.

The hunt for a model new place to dwell was daunting. Few landlords would lease to newest immigrants who had no documentation. Nonetheless the basement proprietor welcomed them with comparatively little paperwork, possibly on account of it didn’t adjust to the code. The ceilings had been too low. There was not enough pure delicate and air circulate. All they needed to maneuver in was a letter of recommendation from their earlier landlord and proof of employment.

Gomez took a room with a small window on the doorway of the residence that may match no more than a double mattress. Litzy and her mother shared a room with no residence home windows throughout the center. A small hallway that ran between the bedrooms moreover served as a kitchen. It was cramped and darkish, nonetheless for $1,250 a month they could afford it.

“It was a drastic change. We had an enormous home. We had a spacious consuming room, a lounge, an enormous bathroom,” said Gomez. “To then go to a small residence was troublesome.”

As a result of the years handed, further family members moved to the basement and later to the first flooring residence above. An entire of 15 people, along with one different 4 of Gomez’s siblings, their companions and children, often known as the tiny residence in Woodside their home — 1000’s of miles from Guerrero, Mexico, the place Gomez grew up.

Collectively they lined quite a lot of jobs vital to New York Metropolis’s financial system: a constructing worker, a nanny, a housekeeper. Gomez and two totally different siblings have cupboards in a grocery retailer. And however there was on a regular basis a member of the household spherical to arrange dinner, clear and entertain their kids.

Then there was the rain. All through heavy rains, usually a few inches of water amassed in elements of the basement. Typically the family would elevate their belongings off the bottom and start mopping.

That was for the remains of Hurricane Ida hit the city last month with a ferocity that broke all info. Higher than two inches of rain fell in a single hour, destroying their basement residence and each half in it. Now, better than a month later, Gomez and his family are nonetheless in the hunt for housing, in the hunt for one factor apart from one different illegal basement home. Nonetheless with out approved standing, monetary establishment accounts and options of credit score rating, they could haven’t any totally different different.

The Gomez family moved into a basement in Woodside in 2011.

The Gomez family moved proper right into a basement in Woodside in 2011.


The Gomez family moved proper right into a basement in Woodside in 2011.

Scott Heins/Gothamist

Vivir Para Contarla, ‘Residing to Inform the Story’

The night Ida struck, Gomez stood in his basement residence – mop in hand – as a result of the sewage bubbled from the lavatory and totally different plumbing fixtures. He rapidly found himself in knee-deep water that rose rapidly. He left the mop behind, shook his 10-month-old and 9-year-old nephews awake and carried them to safety throughout the residence above. Minutes later, he returned for valuables—passports and totally different paperwork, his monetary financial savings—nonetheless by then the water virtually reached the ceiling.

“We seen our objectives disappear. Points that took years. We’ve misplaced each half,” Gomez said, so overcome with emotion that he might barely finish his sentence. “I’m a non secular explicit particular person and I’ve prayed to God so many situations that nothing like this would possibly happen to us.”

Nonetheless, he counts his family among the many many lucky ones. Blocks away, on the alternative side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a family of three, along with a toddler, drowned of their home along with eight totally different people in Queens who died that night in basement residences, most of them illegal residences. If Gomez had been asleep when the storm hit, the city’s demise toll would have included him, his cousins, and sister.

“We have to be grateful to God that we’re alive,” said Gomez, who then paraphrased novelist Gabriel García Márquez. “Others haven’t had the an identical luck. They didn’t dwell to tell the story.”

Swarms of fruit flies that took over the rotting basement have now moved to the floor above.

Swarms of fruit flies that took over the rotting basement have now moved to the bottom above.


Swarms of fruit flies that took over the rotting basement have now moved to the bottom above.

Scott Heins/Gothamist

The storm and its aftermath have launched renewed consideration to an issue lawmakers have prolonged struggled to deal with. Estimates put the number of New Yorkers residing in unregulated basement residences at 100,000 people. though advocacy groups think the number could be twice that. There isn’t a such factor as a official census or demographic breakdown.

Nonetheless housing proponents say they see similarities between these residing in basements.

‘They’re sometimes immigrants, sometimes people from mixed-status households. They’re the vital employees. They’ve the underside wages,” said Annetta Seecharran, govt director of Chhaya Neighborhood Enchancment Firm. “Most likely essentially the most weak New Yorkers dwell in basement residences.”

After Ida, Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out a plan for the best way he believes the city can steer clear of the deadly outcomes of extra catastrophic flooding by concentrating on outreach and evacuation messages for basement residents. Sooner than subsequent yr’s hurricane season, the city’s emergency administration firm ought to work with group groups to create a registry of seemingly basement residences.

Nonetheless a long-term reply to avert future hurt in flood-prone areas would require an estimated $100 billion funding in sewer enhancements. Earlier makes an try to put further basement properties in order have failed after the city cut funding for a pilot program last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

De Blasio has moreover burdened that given the persevering with catastrophe of fairly priced housing throughout the metropolis, he gained’t pressure metropolis suppliers to step up enforcement of illegal housing.

“I don’t suppose it’s smart to say let’s merely not let anyone dwell in it” [illegal basement apartments] on account of I don’t know the place all these people will end up who desire a spot to dwell,” de Blasio said at a press conference shortly after the storm. “Nonetheless in any case we wish people to be protected. It’s a very, very troublesome disadvantage.”

A month later, the Gomez family is still looking for housing.

A month later, the Gomez family continues to be in the hunt for housing.


A month later, the Gomez family continues to be in the hunt for housing.

Scott Heins/Gothamist

“We merely desire a residence”

Higher than a month after the flood, the belongings salvageable from the Gomez family’s basement are nonetheless piled up in entrance of the house, lined with blue tarpaulin. Life is precarious.

Gomez has utilized for help from the Federal Emergency Administration Firm, which he’s eligible for on account of his kids are US residents, nonetheless he’s nonetheless awaiting funding approval. Within the meantime, he, his sister and her daughter Litzy sleep with members of the family throughout the residence above their flooded residence. Ten people now share a three-bedroom residence. Others who lived throughout the basement are scattered and staying with members of the family in several elements of Queens.

The family went two weeks with out cooking gas or scorching water. Swarms of fruit flies, first attracted by the fungus that grew on the basement partitions, have now migrated to the bottom above.

Plenty of nights per week, after his grocery retailer shifts, Gomez leads a gaggle of buddies to look at standard Mexican people dances, in preparation for a great pal’s daughter Quinceañera. Litzy, now 19 years earlier, has started her freshman yr in school whereas working a part-time job.

"We just need a house" said 19-year-old Litzy Gutierrez.

“It’s very nerve-racking because you suppose, ‘Wow, I don’t have a house to go to and do my homework in peace,’” Litzy said. She makes late nights on the college library, grateful for a quiet place the place she’s going to positioned on her headphones, take heed to music, and provides consideration to her schoolwork.

“We merely desire a residence,” she said, though no one throughout the family can take into consideration ever residing in a basement as soon as extra.

“The priority is there, the priority, the uncertainty,” Gomez said. “As quickly because it begins to rain, you presumably can’t sleep.”

Nonetheless just because it was ten years previously – when he first seen the flyer of the residence they now depart behind – the look for a model new home presents quite a lot of obstacles. Completely different family members have been rejected by landlords in newest weeks. Gomez believes they’re being discriminated in the direction of as a consequence of their immigration standing.

“This can be very troublesome to lease an residence in a setting up for those who’re not a citizen or approved resident,” he said, together with that most people he’s conscious of dwell in unregulated residences as he did. “It’s choose it’s forbidden for immigrants to get first charge housing.” | Higher than a month after Ida, a family that misplaced each half nonetheless has no home

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