Florio, a third-generation homeowner who has lived in the community for nearly 70 years, saw that the owner of a house at 50th Avenue and 61st Street was illegally converting the building into a two or even three-family home.
The owner, who was looking to sell, hosted an open house and distributed flyers. According to Florio, neighbors began taking a look.
“Everybody knew about that house,” said Nadia, who requested her last name not be used in the story.
What they saw inside the house concerned them. Florio said there was no living room, and the back of the house was extended ten feet. There were two bedrooms in the front of the house and two bedrooms in the back.
There were also two bathrooms and a “tiny little kitchen” in the middle. That was just on one floor.
On the second floor, there were another two bedrooms on each side and two bathrooms. Down in the basement, there was a large area, a garage that was “almost the length of the house” and another full-sized bathroom.
Florio noted that all of the bathrooms in that house had no tubs, only shower stalls. It reminded her of single-room occupancies.
“It was more like rooms to rent,” Nadia said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s for a family.”
Since then, the Woodside neighbors have only seen the trend of illegal conversions and overdevelopment in their community continue. Florio believes it’s possibly all connected to one family that is buying the properties in the immediate area.
“They’re basically converting all the houses from one-family to two-family, with a possible three-family,” she said. “But they’re marketing it as a two-family. That’s what has us concerned.”
Two months ago, Nadia launched an online petition asking local elected officials to stop the “urbanization of residential homes” in the Woodside, Maspeth and Middle Village areas.
She wrote that “third parties” have been converting homes into “rooms-to-rent style lodgings,” such as what was possibly happening at the house on 61st Street. The petition has already received 193 signatures.
“We all want to live together as a community with respect and value to each other,” she said. “We’re just seeing it deteriorating right before our eyes.”
Florio said it’s hard to estimate how expansive the overdevelopment has been in the community. Some may convert to two-family homes legally, but others may do it illegally.
She believes that the Department of Buildings (DOB) inspectors often can’t stop them because of “strict rules” that won’t allow them to go inside and see for themselves.
The burdens of overdevelopment have not been lost on the Woodside residents. Florio said parking has become increasingly difficult.
Last week, one of her neighbors came home to a note on his door that read, “Why don’t you park in front of your own house? Stop taking two spots.”
“People are getting very nasty to one another,” she said.
Another effect is that the Department of Sanitation sometimes has to come twice into their community driveway to pick up garbage.
But worst of all, Florio noted, their neighborhood was “built on a landfill” nearly a century ago. Without proper foundations, homes have begun to sink and tilt.
When two or three families take the place of single-family homes, that could have an even worse consequence on the area.
Florio has already met with Councilman Robert Holden’s office, and submitted a report documenting much of what she has seen.
A spokesperson for Holden said while most of the homes in question comply with zoning regulations and have been investigated by DOB, two homes in particular are being further scrutinized.
“While I share the same concerns as my constituents, I have been working with DOB and the issue is that the current zoning unfortunately allows for some of these conversions to happen,” Holden said in a statement. “This is why I have been pushing for City Planning to downzone these areas and other parts of my district, as well as introducing legislation to address illegal conversions.”
A spokesperson for DOB, meanwhile, said they are currently auditing a number of projects Holden brought to their attention, and will follow up with inspections after those audits are completed.
“Investigating suspected illegal conversions, and ensuring that New Yorkers have safe and legal places to live, is one of our highest priorities at the Department of Buildings,” the spokesperson said in a statement.