Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor de Blasio said “The City is using innovative strategies to unlock more affordable housing at every level – including the basement.”
By Forum Staff
Mayor Bill de Blasio and three Brooklyn City Council members on Thursday proposed legislation to establish a three-year demonstration program to facilitate the creation and renovation of apartments in the basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family homes in Brooklyn Community Board 5 (all areas of East New York, including Cypress, Spring Creek, Starrett City, Gateway and Highland Park).
According to the proposed measure, the City will allow for the creation of new apartments in this area through the modification of existing Housing Maintenance Code, Fire Code and Construction Code standards, coupled with existing allowances for home conversions and the allocation of funds to assist with these renovations.
The administration said that this pilot program would add to the city’s existing housing stock by allowing property owners to create safe and legal apartments in their buildings. The City also pledged to use the pilot to identify and learn about how to overcome barriers that owners face when seeking to convert basement units.
“The City is using innovative strategies to unlock more affordable housing at every level – including the basement,” de Blasio said. “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.”
The basement conversion pilot program was a commitment made under the East New York Neighborhood Plan, a City strategy approved in April 2016 to promote affordable housing preservation and development, encourage economic development, create pedestrian-friendly streets, and invest in community resources to support the long-term growth and sustainability of East New York, Cypress Hills and Ocean Hill. The pilot is the result of a study conducted by a working group convened in October, 2016, according to the City.
“The basement pilot program was a sticking point for the East New York Neighborhood Plan to pass,” said Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), who proposed the legislation along with Councilmembers Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) and Mayor de Blasio. “For the past three years, my office has worked with our partners in the administration and community on crafting the nuances of this bill and we are glad to see this finally becoming a reality. In East New York, I can comfortably estimate that over 75 percent 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.”
The City also noted that modifications of code standards include minimum ceiling heights and window sizes in basement and cellar spaces and strengthened requirements for emergency egress and fire safety. Each proposed modification to the code standards for this program took into account the obligation to preserve the health and safety for the occupants of these apartments. The changes will modify requirements in order to reduce costs and facilitate conversion of new residential units.
“Converting basement units into safe and legal housing is an important way to address New York City’s affordability crisis,” Lander added.