Dozens of migrants found living in basement of Queens furniture store during building inspection

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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Dozens of migrants found living in basement of Queens furniture store
Sonia Rincon has more,

RICHMOND HILL, Queens (WABC) -- Dozens of migrants were found living in the basement of a Queens furniture store during a city building inspection Monday night.

The furniture shop on Liberty Avenue was housing 74 adult men from West Africa in a commercial space, including a basement under the store.

Inspectors say they found more than 40 beds inside the store, but when city officials finished counting the people inside, they sent dozens of asylum seekers to a migrant shelter in the Bronx.

Ebou Sarr, the owner of the shop, admitted to housing the migrants to help them out because he felt bad for them since they would be kicked out of shelters after 30 days.

"I'm so proud of these guys, that's why they broke my heart, I'm proud of them, they are all hardworking people," Sarr said.

He says he was not charging them rent, but made them agree to ground rules such as no cooking and no E-bike battery charging inside and asked them to donate $300 a month toward a fund to eventually lease a larger space for them.

He insisted his shelter was safe because of his ground rules, but neighbors thought otherwise and complained. A neighbor who asked not to be identified said she tried to reason with Sarr, but he didn't take her seriously.

She called 311 for weeks and finally was able to get through to the mayor's office to complain about e-bikes being a fire hazard as well as noise -- but what bothered her the most was an enclosure they built in the back yard right in front of her window.

"First of all, they blocked my window, they concreted my window, I don't have ventilation coming in to that window, I was not informed that they were building, converting and putting another home up against my window," the neighbor said. "My window was concrete."

Another neighbor said he was concerned about the e-bikes and the noise, saying the men would drink and smoke and sometimes get rowdy.

City agencies said they placed 40 men in a shelter in the Bronx. The shop owner says there were more than that staying there -- he counted 74. It's possible some of the others found another place to stay.

Milick Ndiaye, a migrant from Senegal, said he spent the night on the subway after staying in Sarr's basement for two months -- without fear of being kicked out.

"It's better for me than the shelter, because I don't have money to pay, a house is very expensive," Ndiaye said.

Sarr said the men who were staying there did not want to leave, but didn't have much choice.

"They don't want to go, they don't want to go through that again," said Sarr. "This morning, most of them called me. They said what they've been through is that they have never been through that. They went through hell last night trying to find a place, you know, to stay. And they were they were fine. We were fine. We were just, you know, doing what we have to do."

Janice Yu is in Queens with the report.

Mayor Eric Adams and Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer said housing men illegally in a furniture store is an unfortunate outgrowth of the city's housing crisis.

"We cannot create those desperate situations," the mayor said. "We have to build more, we have an inventory issue in the city, people should not be living in unsafe environments. If we don't build more, we're going to build more problems."

There are vacate orders at the store and the DOB issued two violations. The shop is still open but it's not allowed to house people and the neighbors who complained said they're relieved, because it just got to be too much.

"When you have situations like we are facing here, there are some who are going to attempt to exploit it, some are going to attempt to do illegal housing. We have an obligation with DOB, FDNY, and all of our services to respond and take necessary action," Adams said.

ALSO READ | First on Eyewitness News: Mayor Eric Adams slashes funding to migrants, cancels city budget cuts

NJ Burkett reports.


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