Friday’s floods and our call to action

Collage of news headlines focusing on recent floods in NYC and the subsequent calls for legislative action to ensure safety for tenants two years after Ida took the lives of 11 New Yorkers living in basements

The climate crisis was once again on full display last week as rainfall and sewer overflow inundated streets, subways, and basements.

In a statement released by the Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) coalition, Pratt Center and our coalition partners renewed our calls for New York City and State to invest in citywide flood mitigation and resiliency infrastructure and to legalize basement apartments in order to better prepare for these “predictable emergencies.”

The storm came just a month after Pratt Center and fellow advocates for basement apartment legalization hosted a memorial honoring the 11 lives that were lost in basement apartments just two years ago during Hurricane Ida. Sylvia Morse, Pratt Center’s Program Manager for Policy, recently spoke with Gothamist about how Ida was a pivotal moment in the decade-long effort to bring attention to this issue.

“For many years, the arguments that this was an urgent housing safety issue were seen as hypothetical. It is a shame that it took the death of New Yorkers in their basement apartments to create more urgency.”

–Sylvia Morse, Gothamist, 9/22/23

In interviews with local, national and international news outlets amidst Friday’s flooding, Pratt Center and other members of BASE called attention to the overlapping housing and climate crises to make the case for basement legalization and regulation, and urged officials to seize the moment to ensure basement tenants are safe when the next storm rolls in.

“It’s easy to say, because of the risk, no one should be living in these apartments. That is the policy today and people are still living in them...The extreme adaptation that New York City is going to have to do to mitigate climate change goes far beyond basement apartments. But action to at least protect those who are forced to live in basement apartments today is long overdue.”

–Sylvia Morse, Bloomberg, 9/29/23

“The fact that there has been legislation that's been supported by this mayoral administration and the governor during the past two state legislative sessions is a sign that people are taking this issue seriously, and it is certainly closer than it’s been. I hope that we get through this weekend without any deaths or serious injuries or major damages, but I think that it's still important that legislators recognize this event as an emergency, even if the worst does not happen.”

–Sylvia Morse, City & State, 9/29/23

“Opt-in text messages and belated emergency alerts are woefully insufficient. Protecting the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who rely on basement apartments for affordable housing must start with legalization, and include major investments in the city’s stormwater infrastructure.”

–BASE Press Release, The Guardian, 9/29/23



The BASE Campaign is mobilizing New York communities for the creation of a citywide program to streamline basement and cellar conversions into safe, legal apartments. In addition to the Pratt Center, BASE includes Chhaya Community Development Corporation, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Citizens Housing & Planning Council, Queens Legal Services, and Center for New York City Neighborhoods.

To learn more about Pratt Center’s work with the BASE coalition see Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone. For more on our research into basement apartments in NYC, see our post-Ida report from October 2021: New York’s Housing Underground: 13 Years Later, which analyzed unaccounted for basement and cellar apartments, and found that they are predominantly in BIPOC communities with higher levels of rent burden and poverty than the citywide average. 


03 Oct, 2023