Rising Floods for Basement Apartment Dwellers – Home, Interrupted

Feet in Two Words: When Venezuelan migrant Bibiane Chamorro woke up on September 1st, 2021, at first, she thought she was dreaming.

She had gone to bed at 9 p.m. with her husband, Mario, so she could get up at 4 a.m. for her job as a housekeeper. But in the middle of the night, she woke to the sound of her little dog, Lily, splashing around. When she opened her eyes, she realized their basement apartment had started to fill with water.

 “The water come [sic] so fast, all through the walls, the, the door. It was very, very fast,” said Bibiane. “My husband say [sic], eh, wake up. Wake up…We are going to die here.”

Bibiane grabbed Lily and started to wade towards the exit. But the water rose so high that she had to start swimming. Then, moments from the exit, she hit her head on the ceiling and began to drown. Her husband had to swim back, grab her, and pull her out of the apartment.

Bibiane, Mario, and Lily all survived the night of Hurricane Ida. But 11 other basement tenants didn’t.

Three years after Ida, in 2024, it’s estimated that over 100,000 people are currently living in New York’s basement apartments, many of them migrants. These units can give new arrivals a way to get into homes and out of city-sponsored shelters. But they can also be dangerous—part of an underregulated, nebulous ecosystem that lives at the nexus of three overlapping crises.

New York is in the middle of a housing crisis, with the average one-bedroom in Manhattan currently costing over $4,000. A majority of New Yorkers are currently rent-burdened and, despite the city’s attempts to address affordability, housing is at its lowest level of vacancy since 1968.

The city’s also in the midst of a migrant crisis. Over 100,000 asylum-seekers arrived in New York in 2023. Political and electoral posturing from border leaders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott meant new arrivals continued to be bussed into the city well into the winter of last year, straining city services and causing Mayor Eric Adams to implement 60- to 90-day shelter limits for new arrivals.

On top of it all, a climate crisis: New York’s rainfall is hitting record-breaking levels and predictive maps show that over 40 percent of New Yorkers may face re-location by the end of the century. Read more or listen>>