Bay Ridge

Gentile ties school overcrowding to illegal home conversions

September 16, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Vincent Gentile charges that the ramifications of illegal home conversions are far more damaging to neighborhoods like Bay Ridge than initially believed. He pointed to school overcrowding an example.
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What does home construction have to do with overcrowded classrooms in schools? A lot, if you ask Councilmember Vincent Gentile.

“School overcrowding can be a direct effect of illegal home conversion,” Gentile said. Here’s the logic behind his argument: A property owner who subdivides a two-family house into six-unit apartment house without city permits turns around and rents those units to families with children. The families more into a building that is listed in city records as being a two-family house when in reality it has become a six-unit dwelling. The children in those families attend the local public school.

The result is near catastrophic, according to Gentile.”We have more families that we otherwise would flooding our schools,” he said.

The problem of illegal home conversions has been a hot topic of conversation in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and other southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods for several months. “It continues to be a major problem in our district,” said Ann Falutico, chairman of the Zoning and Land Use Committee of Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights).

There is no estimate as to how many homes have been illegally converted into apartment buildings, but advocates said there are many and that the numbers are increasing.

An illegal home conversion occurs when a property owner performs extensive work on a house, converting it from a one-family or two-family into a multi-unit building, without the required permits from the city’s Department of Buildings. It often results in a situation in which as many as 30 people are crammed into a dwelling meant for 10 people.

Overcrowded homes can have an impact on the entire community, according to Gentile, who said it stretches the resources of the city’s water and sewer usage and puts a strain on the sanitation, fire, police and environmental protection departments.

Illegal home conversions are hard to detect, according to housing preservationists, who pointed out that the facades of the buildings often look the same as they did before the sub-division.

Speaking at a Community Board 10 meeting Monday night, Gentile said he is working with the New York City Department of Education to gather data on school overcrowding.

Gentile introduced a bill that he said would make it easier for inspectors from the Dept. of Buildings to gain access to a property. The bill would also allow inspectors to issue violations based on external evidence found on a property. The evidence would include the presence of numerous mailboxes, doorbells, and utility devices at a building that looks like a one-family house from the outside.

Bob Cassara, a Dyker Heights resident who said several illegal home conversions have taken place on his block, Bay Ridge Parkway between Fort Hamilton Parkway and 10th Avenue, told Board 10 that the problem is widespread.

“It is important that we get control of this issue,” he said.

Cassara has organized petition drives to call on city and state officials to stop the illegal practice.

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