Photo Courtesy of Sen. Avella’s Office
“A number of Queens civics and I are speaking out against the illegal conversion of basements into unsafe living areas,” Sen. Tony Avella said last week.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Widespread legalization of basement apartments apparently remains on the table as an option for the City as it continues to explore ways to create and/or secure affordable housing.
And many borough communities remain staunchly opposed to underground residences.
“A number of Queens civics and I are speaking out against the illegal conversion of basements into unsafe living areas,” State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), a 2017 mayoral candidate, said recently.
In 2014, four months into his tenure, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled Housing New York – an ambitious 10-year, five-borough, $41 billion plan to build and preserve 200,000 affordable apartments.
Considered one of the pillars of de Blasio’s progressive vision for the city, HNY outlined more than 50 initiatives that that the administration has said will accelerate affordable construction, protect tenants and deliver more value from affordable housing investments, including: Implementing mandatory inclusionary zoning; increasing the number of homes for the lowest income New Yorkers; launching a new affordable housing program for middle-income New Yorkers; doubling the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s capital funding for affordable housing; spurring development of small, vacant sites; stemming the tide of rent deregulation and protecting tenants; and expanding affordable and supportive housing for seniors.
Some borough civic leaders immediately expressed concerns regarding HNY initiatives, including how it might involve green-lighting basement and attic apartments.
“We worked hard to keep the zoning the way it is, to keep the character the way it is,” said Martin Colberg of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association. “Just shoving people into a basement or attic is not the answer.”
According to Avella, the de Blasio administration is still contemplating basement dwellings as a legitimate initiative to advance the Housing New York agenda.
Last year, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council, a nonpartisan policy research organization in the city focusing on housing, planning, and economic development issues, released “Hidden Housing: The Case for a Conversion Program for Basement Apartments in NYC,” bolstering the administration’s underground vision. The 64-page analysis noted that there are between 10,000 and 38,000 potential apartments in the basements of existing small homes “that could be brought into safe and legal use in New York City without even changing the Zoning Resolution.”
“Basement conversions bring rental units to the market without having to acquire land. They add apartments without altering the size or shape of the building. They inherently rent for less than a similar apartment. Homeowners can pay a mortgage, maintain the property, or pay other household expenses with the rent earned on the secondary unit. Basement apartments offer housing options to underserved groups like extended families and new immigrants,” the Council wrote in the “Hidden Housing” report. “A program facilitating safe and legal basement conversions would also address the urgent health and safety concerns connected with illegal occupancy, which occurs far too frequently because the demand for housing is so high.”