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City Plans Pilot Program to Create Liveable, Affordable Basement Units in East New York

East New York's mix of one- and two-family homes with unoccupied basement units that could increase the city's stock of affordable housing.
House East NY
Photo Credit: House

Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Brooklyn Councilmembers Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron and Brad Lander proposed a bill to launch a three-year pilot program to create and renovate basement apartments in East New York. The legislation aims to add to the city's existing stock of affordable housing by allowing property owners to create safe, liveable and legal apartments in their buildings.

"This program will increase the stock of affordable housing in East New York, provide additional income to homeowners and ensure tenant safety," said de Blasio who is allocating $11.7 million in funding to back the program.

East New York was chosen as the pilot's launch site because of its ideal mix of one- and two-family homes, which often have unoccupied or illegally occupied basement units. Tenants in illegal basement and cellar apartments typically have no lease, limited rights and live in substandard conditions. With the bill, the city's Department of Buildings will modify its existing codes for basement units with clear guidelines to ensure livable standards. NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development will provide subsidies to homeowners who want to participate in the pilot. Eligible homeowners "must have an income at or below 165% of Area Median Income, and occupy the home as their primary residence.

The basement conversion pilot program is the result of a study conducted by a working group that included Councilmember Espinal and convened in October 2016. It was a commitment from the East New York Neighborhood Plan, which passed in 2016.

"The basement pilot program was a sticking point for the East New York Neighborhood Plan to pass," said Espinal. "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."