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Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone

Mission:

The Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) Campaign seeks to mobilize New York communities for the creation of the NYC Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) Program, a citywide program to streamline basement and cellar conversions into legal apartments. The program will formalize over 100,000 affordable housing units in the city’s housing stock in the next mayoral administration’s first term. The NYC Basement Program will include citywide code changes, passed by legislative action in city council, which will allow for a simplified conversion experience for homeowners and regulatory agreements to protect tenants. The citywide program will provide subsidized loans, evaporating loans, and grants based homeowners’ income level to support the legalization of basements.

Program Vision:

As New York City continues to grow, demand for housing has led to a dramatic expansion of the city’s informal housing market. Housing advocates estimate that there at least 114,000 apartments that are not reflected in the official number of certificates of occupancy granted by the City and are, therefore, not approved for use as living spaces. This number is likely a very low estimate.

Overcrowding, a scarce supply of affordable housing, inflated housing prices, and a housing gap have led to a surge in unapproved apartments throughout the city, with the highest rates occurring in the borough of Queens. Today, many have become home to new immigrants seeking housing during the city’s ongoing affordable housing crisis.

Due to archaic building codes, the majority of New York City families cannot currently use their basements to house their own family members or as rental units to support their own income.

We recommend the creation of a citywide program to streamline basement and cellar conversions into legal apartments. The program will formalize over 100,000 affordable housing units in the city’s housing stock in the next mayoral administration’s first term.

The NYC Basement Program will include citywide code and zoning changes including modifying required ceiling heights to 7 feet; permitting safe cellars to be converted into legal units; and waiving parking requirements for additional units in certain areas. These changes will allow for a simplified conversion experience for homeowners. The citywide program will provide subsidized loans, evaporating loans, and grants based on AMI of homeowners to support the legalization of basements. Additionally, accepting city funding to complete the project will require a regulatory agreement to preserve long-term affordable housing.

Benefits of the program:
  1. It will protect tenants: Tenants in basement units are highly vulnerable. Allowing for the legalization of safe basement apartments would provide additional protections for these tenants, who currently have no recourse in housing court. To ignore the stock of basement apartments in use today is to relegate the most vulnerable New Yorkers, many immigrants and low-wage workers, to a precarious tenancy with the constant threat of eviction, harassment, and poor living conditions hanging over their heads. Not only is this bad for housing stability, it is bad for the health of the tenants.
  2. It will increase affordable housing: New York City is facing a housing crisis, we desperately need real affordable housing that people at 50%, 40%, 30% AMI, etc. can actually afford. Over 11 percent of all rental housing is considered overcrowded. Twenty percent of households spend over half their income on rent. Basement units are the largest source of safe, affordable, and sustainable housing to accommodate our city’s growing population, particularly in outer borough neighborhoods that were designed for suburban-level populations with one and two family houses, but are now home to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.
  3. It will help LMI homeowners: Owners who illegally rent their basement units can face crippling fines. Many of these homeowners are victims of predatory lending whose homes are at risk of default. Predatory lenders will often convince a family they can afford to buy a home on the premise that they can rent out the basement. In neighborhoods such as Jamaica, Richmond Hill, and across South Queens, loss of rental income has contributed to a rise in mortgage defaults. Allowing homeowners to rent out basement units would supply owners with rental income that would prevent foreclosures and stabilize neighborhoods. I have personally seen clients cry in my office because they are facing fines that will financially ruin their family Add on top of that the fact they also lost a needed source of income that they will be unable to start collecting again unless they invest a small fortune trying to bring their basement up to code, some of those codes we consider unnecessary and arbitrary.
  4. It will stimulate economic activity in LMI neighborhoods: Creating more affordable housing where rental income goes to LMI homeowners instead of corporate landlords will provide an economic stimulus to LMI communities. It is well established in the economics literature that lower-income households have a higher propensity to consume, and local residents living in one-to-four family, owner-occupied homes are likely to spend and reinvest their money in their neighborhoods rather than taking rental income from residents and investing or spending the money elsewhere, in many cases outside of New York altogether. In a time of growing income and wealth inequality, we should support affordable housing plans that generate wealth for our working-and-middle class families instead of real estate investors, speculators, and private equity firms.

 

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