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Mayor de Blasio Signs Legislation to Launch Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program

March 4, 2019

City to partner with community organizations to finance creation of safe, quality basement apartments in East New York

NEW YORK— Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed landmark legislation to create a pathway for transforming certain basement and cellar apartments into safe, legal, affordable homes. 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 Mayor de Blasio.

Residents in illegal basement and cellar apartments typically have no lease, limited rights, and live in substandard conditions. 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.  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. 

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 health and safety of residents. The changes will modify requirements in order to reduce costs and facilitate conversion of new residential units.

Brooklyn’s Community District 5, including East New York, has an existing building stock of one- and two-family homes that makes it ideal for the launch of this program. The basement conversion pilot program was a commitment made under the East New York Neighborhood Plan, and is the result of a study conducted by a working group convened in October, 2016. This working group was comprised of Administration officials, elected officials including Council Member Espinal; Community groups, residents and housing advocates including CHLDC, Community Development Project at Urban Justice Center, CHHAYA CDC, Pratt Center for Community Development, Coalition for Community Advancement - Progress for East New York/Cypress Hills.

“Across this city, there are New Yorkers living in unsafe, illegally converted basement apartments,” said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings. “Thanks to this pilot, residents of illegally converted basement units in East New York will be afforded the opportunity to live in apartments that meet the various building and fire codes that make other dwelling units throughout our city safe and livable. I look forward to seeing the results of this pilot and am hopeful it will reveal the great potential of basements for expanding the stock of safe, affordable housing throughout New York City.”

“Converting basement units into safe and legal housing is an important way to address New York City's affordability crisis," said Council Member Brad Lander. “This pilot program will create affordable housing for tenants, financial stability for homeowners, and investment in East New York. It will also enable us to learn useful lessons to smartly expand the program to neighborhoods around the city in the future. I’m proud to co-sponsor the legislation along with Council Members Rafael Espinal and Inez Barron, and grateful to the de Blasio Administration for working to develop this thoughtful pilot program. Thanks especially to the community advocates of the BASE (Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone) Campaign, including Chhaya CDC, Cypress Hills LDC, and the Pratt Center for Community Development, we have been pushing for years to bring underground units into the light.”

Council Member Inez Barron said, “This bill will increase the stock of safe and quality housing in a city where housing is imminently needed. The number of people who are homeless, rent-burdened, ‘couch-surfing’ and living ‘doubled-up’ are representative of the need for safe, pleasant, affordable housing. Currently, thousands of people across the city are living in basement apartments that are not registered with the city and that have not been certified as meeting the standards, codes and requirements of the city. Agencies responsible for ensuring that the established fire, health, construction and building requirements have been satisfied have no opportunity to confirm the safety of all who live in such premises and indeed the entire neighborhood. This bill will enable landlords to make necessary structural adjustments to their basements so that these potential living spaces can be legalized. As such, landlords can provide living accommodations that conform to codes and in which residents can live with confidence.”  

"I am grateful to the coalition of partners that came together to combat our City's affordability crisis with innovative ideas rooted in community needs,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal. “With foreclosures on the rise, programs like this give New Yorkers the additional income they require to keep their homes. The basement pilot program is going to stabilize the livelihood of many of my neighbors in East New York, while expanding and securing the number of legal and affordable units available to rent."

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