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New Bill Calls for Illegal NYC Basement Apts to Become Safe & Affordable

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Illegal basement apartments are a problem in New York City – an estimated 114,000 people are said to live in them, according to housing advocacy groups Chhaya Community Development Corporation and the Pratt Center for Community Development. Photo Credit: City Building Owners Insurance

Illegal basement apartments are a problem in New York City – an estimated 114,000 people are said to live in them, according to housing advocacy groups Chhaya Community Development Corporation and the Pratt Center for Community Development.

These apartments can be dangerous; they have to meet minimum requirements for light, air, sanitation and exits, and they must be approved by the Department of Buildings.

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill whose goal is to turn illegal basement and cellar apartments into safe, legal, affordable housing, starting with a three-year pilot in East New York and Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.

The new law establishes a three-year demonstration program to facilitate the creation and renovation of apartments in the basements and cellars of qualifying one- and two-family homes in Brooklyn Community District 5.

“There are thousands of basement apartments in our City, but too many are illegal and unsafe. This program will help New Yorkers secure safe, affordable homes and give homeowners a new legal source of income,” said de Blasio.

Residents in illegal basement and cellar apartments typically have no lease, limited rights, and live in substandard conditions, the mayor’s office said in a release. This new law will add to New York City’s existing housing stock by allowing property owners to create safe, legal, and affordable apartments in their buildings. The City will also use the pilot to learn about how to overcome barriers that owners face when seeking to convert basement units.

Last summer, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development released a Request for Expressions of Interest to identify a Community Based Organization to administer the program, the mayor’s office pointed out. HPD will partner with Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), a local non-profit that will subcontract with four community non-profits. The program will provide eligible low- to middle-income homeowners living in one- to three-family homes in East New York and Cypress Hills, Brooklyn with low or no-interest loans to convert their basements into safe, legal, and rentable apartments, based on the altered Building Code. The homeowner will also be provided with the technical assistance needed to close on a loan and complete the construction project. Homeowners can learn more by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov/basementconversion.

“Finding a path to create safe, legal basement apartments that will add to our city’s affordable housing stock while stabilizing homeowners is an idea whose time has come,” said Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “We are grateful to Councilmembers Lander, Espinal, and Barron for their leadership on this issue and our partner City agencies for helping us to advance this innovative pilot program that promises to unlock more safe, quality housing opportunities.”

“The Buildings Department is pleased to join our colleagues in city government to promote the Mayor’s vision for affordable housing. This legislation varies several existing city code standards and provides additional protections to help homeowners build safe and legal cellar and basement dwelling units in certain properties in Brooklyn. We thank the City Council and our partner agencies for their work to enact legislation creating this important new program,” said Acting Buildings Commissioner Thomas Fariello, RA.

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