The epidemic of illegal home conversions in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst is causing a school-overcrowding crisis, and the city isn’t taking the issue seriously, locals say.
The practice of subdividing two-family homes to multi-family apartments is bringing more kids to District 20 schools than classrooms can handle, say local leaders. A section of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights with the most 311 complaints of illegal home conversions also has the most overcrowded elementary schools in the district, according to our analysis of school enrollment and 311 complaints within community boards 10 and 11.
The School for Future Leaders, the Ralph A Fabrizio School, PS 127, and PS 176 enrolled at least 1.5 times their stated capacity in 2014, Department of Education data shows. The four elementary schools reside within the same square mile of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights where 311 has received the heaviest concentration of illegal conversion complaints since 2010.
At 171-percent enrollment, Dyker Heights’ PS 176 is the most overcrowded of all of District 20’s 37 schools, and the situation is having a clear, negative impact on kids, local leaders say.
“At PS 176, there’s kids in hallways,” said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann.
The local school zones in District 20 where the Department of Buildings has issued the most illegal conversion violations also tend to have more overcrowded schools, analysis of violations in community boards 10 and 11 shows. The city slapped eight building owners within the area zoned for PS 176 with violations since 2010 — more than areas zoned for other schools, according to city data.
The main driver of both school overcrowding and the illegal home conversions is population growth due to immigration, according to Community Board 10’s education committee chair.
“The No. 1 issue is immigration,” said Bob Hudock. “Bensonhurst is the No. 2 neighborhood in the city for foreign-born immigrants.”
A 2013 report from the Department of City Planning found that Bensonhrust has the second-highest number of foreign-born residents in the city.
A lack of housing forces families into illegally converted homes, and Hudock believes that causes the city underestimate just how big the population boom is, since tenants in illegally converted homes typically try to avoid official notice — skewing the numbers in the city’s census data. Also, landlords who illegally subdivide houses routinely lie to the city about the number of units and occupants, said Hudock, making city records an inaccurate measure of local population in areas with a high rate of illegal conversions.