City's Flood Zone Map Fails Bailey-Holt House

An emergency exit from Bailey-Holt House boarded up after the AIDS residence was flooded by rising Hudson River waters caused by Hurricane Sandy. | GAY CITY NEWS

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of all New Yorkers living in the city’s flood-prone areas on October 28, residents and staff at the Bailey-Holt House had to make a decision. Sitting at the west end of Christopher Street, the AIDS residence has a door that is roughly ten yards from Zone A, the city’s “highest risk” flood zone.

“If we had been in Zone A, it would have been a really clear decision,” said Gina Quattrochi, the chief executive officer of Bailey House, the non-profit that runs the residence that is home to 44 clients. “The fact that we were in Zone B and had never experienced anything like this, we gave the people who live here a choice about whether to stay like everyone else in the Village… The response I got from the people who live there is, ‘This is my home, I’m not leaving.’”

The next day, high tide and Hurricane Sandy combined to create a storm surge that came over the Hudson River piers and flooded nearby buildings, including Bailey-Holt House.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) produced a map that divides the city into three zones –– A, B, and C –– with areas in Zone A having the “highest risk” of flooding, Zone B areas having a “moderate” risk, and Zone C areas being “unlikely” to experience flooding.

In the West Village, Zone A’s eastern border is the east side of West Street from one block north of West Houston up to 20th Street. That border is roughly 40 yards from the Hudson River. While the West Village, except for the piers, is in Zone B, a few buildings, such as the residence, are on West Street a few yards or even a few feet from the border.

Those buildings are at the same elevation as the street so if West Street floods, as the city clearly believed it was going to, those buildings will flood as well. And that is exactly what happened on October 29.

The main entrance of Bailey-Holt House on Christopher Street. | GAY CITY NEWS

The residence director had left for the day, but came back when the flooding began. She had to wade through waist-deep water to get into the building. The water burst through an emergency exit flooding the ground floor administrative offices. It poured into and filled the basement.

“The river came rushing through,” Quattrochi said. “She and some of the staff had to get down to get some of the important stuff up.”

The power had already been cut so the 37 clients who were still in the residence and the half-dozen staff members were left without a functioning elevator and no working kitchen. On November 1, when Gay City News visited, the few remaining residents were being moved out of the seven-story building.

Staff at Bailey-Holt House took some residents who need regular dialysis treatment to nearby hospitals and others to shelters or facilities where they could continue to receive other required medical help.

Conservatively, Quattrochi estimated the cost of the damage at $350,000 to $500,000.

“First of all, everything has to be dried out,” she said. “We’re going to have to gut the and rebuild the offices… We may have to replace both boilers in the basement.”

While the residence, which opened in 1986, has insurance, the first report is that it does not cover flood damage.

“A lot of these policies don’t even cover flooding anymore,” Quattrochi said. “I think their initial statement was we’re not covered for flood insurance, but they’re going to get an adjuster in.”

A building that sits next door to Bailey-Holt House has been unattended since it is part of an estate that has been in litigation for years. It may have a flooded basement that is leaking into the residence’s basement.

“Some water is still seeping into the basement,” Quattrochi said. “We suspect that the building that abuts us on the south is flooded… It’s been abandoned for 15 years.”

A vacate order placed on a building on West Street around the corner from Bailey-Holt House. | GAY CITY NEWS

On November 1, the city’s Department of Buildings had already placed vacate orders on some buildings on West Street and some nearby businesses were pumping out their flooded basements and drying out their soaked inventory and records.

The Bailey-Holt House residents may be back soon –– though not immediately.

“We’re telling clients certainly not until Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest,” Quattrochi said. “We’re not going to let anyone in until we have a professional sign-off on the safety of the building.”

Quattrochi said that in retrospect, people might ask, “Why didn’t you vacate on Sunday or Monday?” She explained the residents wanted to stay in their homes just like many other West Village residents and they relied on the city’s map showing that they were outside of Zone A.

“Clearly, it’s problematic,” Quattrochi said of the Zone A border on the map. “We’ve seen now that it’s problematic.”

The City Hall press office and OEM did not respond to emails and a call seeking comment.