Bishop Jonathan Owhe and wife Olutoyin Owhe in front of...

Bishop Jonathan Owhe and wife Olutoyin Owhe in front of their New Cassel home on Tuesday. Olutoyin Owhe said the housing law amendments were well-received in the community. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New Cassel residents are breathing a sigh of relief after a local law, which targeted illegal housing and overcrowding in the area, was recently amended after years of homeowners calling for officials to ease restrictions.

North Hempstead officials formed the New Cassel Urban Renewal Overlay District in 2006 in part to prevent overcrowding and its impacts on the community. The restrictions prohibited residents from having more than two fixtures in basement bathrooms and specifically banned shower or bathtub fixtures. Basement entrances from an outside stairwell and rooms or spaces in basements that exceed six feet in any horizontal dimension were forbidden as well.

At a Dec. 16 meeting, the town board voted 6-0 to amend standards for all residential development in New Cassel.

Councilwoman Viviana Russell, who represents the hamlet of more than 14,000 residents — 90% of whom are Black or Hispanic — said the board reviewed the law and determined it did not fulfill its intended purpose. She noted the changes will give residents more access to their homes.

"I think it’s a good day for the residents in the New Cassel area because now they’re able to have the enjoyment of their home like every other resident in the town," said Russell, who’s wrapping up her final days as council member.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restrictions made it difficult for Olutoyin Owhe, a registered nurse and health care administrator at Westbury-based Rockgate Social Adult Day Care, to separate herself from her family after coming home from work.

"We found that we had to come into the main house with the same clothing we used to take care of others, putting our families at risk," said Owhe, who has lived in New Cassel since 1998.

She said the intended law didn’t stop overcrowding in the area, but rather put stress on homeowners. However, she noted that the amendments were well-received in the community.

"I’m so grateful to our leaders because I feel that they’ve listened to the cry of the community," Owhe, 58, said. "Now we can develop our basement. We can have a recreation area, work remotely, have a place to eat and rest in case of an emergency, so we feel we’ve been given the right to live again."

Longtime New Cassel resident Laura Pierce, 65, echoed Owhe’s sentiments and said the pandemic brought the restrictions to light. Pierce, who is a former Westbury school board trustee, said the problem has been ongoing for years and said the changes will bring joy to the community.

"What we see it as, is giving everyone equal opportunity when it comes to your houses," Pierce said. "We all pay the same taxes, so we should all be entitled to do whatever [to our homes].

Not only will the changes help living conditions, but it may increase property values as well, real estate agent Pierre Borga said. Borga, who owns property in the area, has been selling houses in New Cassel for about 30 years. He said basement renovations will be a "tremendous" help to the market.

"They could not enjoy their basement," Borga noted. He added that a "finished basement with a convenient bathroom" will help increase market values.

The local law will take effect upon the town's filing with the state and residents will need to apply for permits. Larinzo Clayton, a private expediter for homeowners, said New Cassel residents, who have been denied variances because of the restrictions, should reapply once the new law is in effect.

Amended housing law

Changes to the standards for residential development in the New Cassel Urban Renewal Overlay District will now allow:

  • Bathrooms with three or more fixtures or a bathroom containing a bath or shower fixture.
  • Stairwells that extend from the exterior of a dwelling to either the cellar or an area on an upper floor.
  • Any interior partitioning which creates a room or space that exceeds six feet in any horizontal dimension or which contain separate closet space within.

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