High rent is almost an overdone, nauseating joke to New Yorkers and most people who live in the Northeast. It’s a punchline understood across the entire 50 states, with only residents in places like Seattle and San Francisco who also wouldn’t find high rent so funny. In what used to seem like a silly joke about how desperate the times have gotten, people would rent out living spaces in places like attics, basements, even garages. The basement dweller may soon be the wave of tomorrow as this trend catches on because some New Yorkers simply don’t have a choice if they want to be able to continue to afford being New Yorkers.
There could soon be a big increase of basement apartments in New York, coming as the city’s affordable housing crisis grows worse and worse. City Council members Brad Lander, Fernando Cabrera, Rafael Espinal, and Inez Barron introduced legislation calling for a pilot program that would create “habitable apartments in basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family dwellings,” Curbed reports.
Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the legislation, who allocated $11.7 million for a pilot program in East New York. The neighborhood was chosen because of its mix of one and two-family homes where plenty of basement units exist. These “unoccupied” units in plenty of cases actually are occupied, illegally.
“In East New York, I can comfortably estimate that over 75% of the basements are being rented illegally, so this will help homeowners by providing an avenue for income, while helping tenants by providing an affordable and safe place to live,” Espinal said in a statement. He also noted that this was one of the key points in the East New York rezoning plan, which passed in 2016.
Curbed explains how the term “safe” is key here because the rules governing basement apartments in the city mostly discourage renting these units with some exceptions. For example, if the units have legal ceiling heights, proper waterproofing, and other safety measures in place, they may be okay.
The new legislation would require the city’s Department of Buildings to modify its existing codes for basement units to give homeowners more clear guidelines on how they can bring these spaces up to a livable standard, Curbed reports. New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will also provide subsidies to homeowners who want to participate in the pilot, Curbed adds.
“The City is using innovative strategies to unlock more affordable housing at every level – including the basement,” De Blasio said in a statement. “This program will increase the stock of affordable housing in East New York, provide additional income to homeowners, and ensure tenant safety. This administration will continue to utilize every tool we have to tackle affordability head on.”
By: Katrina Henderson