Council Approves Pilot Program For Basement Apartments

Celebrating Basement Legislaiton Passage
City Council members (L to R) Rafael Espinal, Brad Lander and Inez Barron. Contributed Photo.

                                                              Moving on down in the East Side,                                                             To a delux apartment in the cellar

The City Council yesterday passed legislation that looks to increase the amount of affordable units across East New York using basement apartments.

City Council Member Brad Lander
City Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr.
City Council Member Inez Barron

City Council Members Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington), Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York), Inez Barron (D-East New York) lauded passage of legislation, Int. 1004, yesterday that would establish a basement conversion pilot program in East New York.

The measure will make changes to the city’s building and fire codes, allowing qualified basement units to be made habitable and legal. The bill would also transform basement units into habitable dwellings in NYC, creating affordable housing for tenants and financial stability for homeowners.

The coalition of lawmakers noted the legislation aims to helps in addressing the City’s affordable housing crisis. According to the legislation, homeowners living in 1-2 family dwellings are eligible.

“Converting basement units into safe and legal housing is an important way to address New York City’s affordability crisis. This pilot program will create affordable housing for tenants, financial stability for homeowners, and investment in East New York. It will also enable us to learn useful lessons to smartly expand the program to neighborhoods around the city in the future,” said Lander.

The program was developed in partnership with the de Blasio Administration, including the Buildings Department, FDNY, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

The City will also provide $12 million in low-interest loans and grants to qualified low- and moderate-income homeowners to make improvements to their homes to comply with the new regulations and create safe, legal, and affordable basement apartments.

“The basement legalization program is a two-birds, one-stone approach to tackling this crisis and delivering for everyday New Yorkers. With foreclosures on the rise throughout the city, including in many communities I represent, we need to make sure homeowners hold onto the assets that give them a pathway to the middle class, and by giving them extra income through basement rentals to help pay off their mortgages and catch up on bills, we can achieve that,” said Espinal.

A study by the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Chhaya Community Development Corporation estimated that there are more than 114,000 units in New York City’s housing underground, and a substantial portion are illegal basement units.

“This bill will increase the stock of safe and quality housing in a city where housing is imminently needed. The number of people who are homeless, rent-burdened, ‘couch-surfing’ and living ‘doubled-up’ are representative of the need for safe, pleasant, affordable housing. Currently, thousands of people across the city are living in basement apartments that are not registered with the city and that have not been certified as meeting the standards, codes and requirements of the city,” said Barron.

The basement conversion pilot program was a commitment made under the East New York Neighborhood Rezoning Plan, and is the result of a study conducted by a working group convened in October, 2016. This working group was comprised of administration officials, council officials including Espinal, community groups, residents and housing advocates.