Republican district leader Liam McCabe and challenger this year to incumbent State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-(D- Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, Midwood), put the issue of illegal conversions on the front burner yesterday.
McCabe did so with a press conference in Bath Beach, across the street from 1948 85th Street, where the under-construction home had been housing 29 people when a fire broke out. None of the residents were harmed, but locals who attended the rally said that one firefighter was injured.
“This is part of a plight that we’re seeing all over South Brooklyn, and it is the plight of illegal conversions,” said McCabe.
Illegal conversions are when landlords illegally convert single-family or two-family homes into multiple apartments and then collect rent from all the people that live there. Individual bedrooms become whole apartments, and living rooms and dining rooms get broken up into apartments as well.
Since the FDNY maps out homes and streets in their jurisdiction to be able to best respond to calls, it complicates rescue missions when the firefighters find reconstructed apartments inside of houses, slowing them down.
“Firemen are trained to understand the particular layout of this house,” McCabe said. “When an illegal conversion takes place, they redraw the entire makeup of the house. This is literally a death trap.”
Other issues that come as a result of illegal conversions are overcrowding of schools and neighborhoods, and a lack of parking.
“Our community is a ‘Naturally Retiring Community.’ I don’t know how many people that are 65 and older are having kids, and yet they’re filling up the schools and they’re loading them up with kids,” said Bob Cassara, a resident of the area. “Where are they coming from? They’re coming from buildings like that where they’re packed with maybe 29 people in it.”
McCabe also brought up a similar situation that happened in nearby Bay Ridge, where he lives. A residential home was illegally converted into a warehouse to which 18-wheelers were making routine deliveries. One day in particular, around four trucks came to drop off battery materials.
“We were terrified,” said Dora Kostopoulos, who lives a few houses down from the converted warehouse. “You can’t just have 18-wheelers pulling up with cases and cases of electronics. It’s dangerous.”
The rally, while small, is just a stepping stone for more events, McCabe explained. He plans to host more events like this one outside of the offices of local politicians, including Gounardes.
“It’s because we have an affordable housing crisis,” McCabe said. “I recognize that, everyone recognizes that, but packing 29 people into a house — a deadly situation — is not the answer. It’s not the answer for the people living there, it’s not the answer for the people in this community whose property values decrease, who are living in danger of fire. So, that’s not the answer.”