September 3, 2021: Gov. Kathy Hochul toured several homes in East Elmhurst, Queens that flooded from torrential rains brought on by Hurricane Ida. Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor on Flickr
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida, Comptroller Brad Lander on Tuesday released a new report that lays the groundwork for legalizing New York City’s basement apartments. On September 1, 2021, the hurricane hit the city with record rainfall and historic flooding that ultimately killed more than a dozen New Yorkers, a majority of whom lived in basement units, many of them unregulated. Modeled after New York’s Loft Law, Lander’s proposed “Basement Resident Protection Law” temporarily legalizes existing basement apartments, requires owners to provide basic safety measures, like smoke detectors and backflow preventers, and creates a “Basement Board” to oversee rights.
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Photo courtesy of HPD
This week, Hurricane Ida brought record rainfall and historic flash flooding to New York City, which ultimately led to the deaths of at least 13 New Yorkers. A majority of the people killed lived in basement apartments, where water was able to get in and block the only way out. These “hidden” units have always been prevalent in New York City, which is home to roughly 50,000 basement apartments, although that number is likely much higher as many of them are considered illegal.
The tragic events of this last week have renewed calls from advocacy groups and elected officials to legalize basement apartments to make them safe for the more than 100,000 New Yorkers who live in them. Ahead, learn about the difference between a legal and illegal basement apartment, what can be done to protect tenants, and what the future holds for these homes, seen as a critical component of the city’s insufficient affordable housing stock.
Certain basement apartments in East New York will be transformed into legal and affordable homes thanks to a new law signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday. The legislation creates a three-year pilot program that helps homeowners renovate cellar and basement units to meet the new code standards, which include minimum ceiling heights, window sizes, and proper safety requirements. “There are thousands of basement apartments in our City, but too many are illegal and unsafe,” de Blasio said in a statement. “This program will help New Yorkers secure safe, affordable homes and give homeowners a new legal source of income.”
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Mayor Bill de Blasio in June announced the city would help landlords create and renovate legal basement and cellar apartments in Brooklyn. This includes making the apartments up to code by ensuring proper safety requirements and windows, among other modifications. As a part of the pilot program, homeowners can apply for the basement pilot program through a city-approved, community-based organization. “This program will increase the stock of affordable housing in East New York, provide additional income to homeowners, and ensure tenant safety,” de Blasio said. The deadline for the basement conversion program is August 15 (h/t City Limits).
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A study released Thursday by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) suggests that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiatives to ease the city’s housing woes should include a program that would convert the 38,000 or so basements in the city’s single-family homes without having to make big changes to city or state laws. As Crain’s reports, the study is part of the CHPC’s Making Room initiative that explores how alternative housing typologies can better meet the needs of New York’s diverse households. The council introduced the study by stating their belief that “based on the ﬁndings we present here, that a basement conversion program in New York City would be an eﬃcient and exciting way to add residential density and expand housing choices in our expensive and highly constrained urban market.”
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