A Bayside lawmaker and local leaders spoke fiercely last week against rumors that Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering legalizing basement apartments throughout the city.
According to state Senator Tony Avella, the mayor first spoke several years ago about moving to legalize basement apartments. Now, Avella charged during an April 7 press conference at his Bayside office, the mayor is returning to the idea as a way to combat the city’s affordable housing crisis.
“There’s a reason basement apartments are illegal,” Avella said. “They are inherently unsafe.”
According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), under current regulations, the cellar of a one-or-two family home cannot be lawfully rented, nor the basement of a two-family dwelling. The basement of a one-family dwelling can be lawfully rented, should the space meet a number of conditions.
Avella, who is challenging de Blasio in his bid for re-election, went on to suggest that the move may also be an effort solve the city’s homelessness situation, “that [de Blasio] himself is mainly responsible for,” he said.
The state senator was flanked by representatives from Queens community boards and civic groups who echoed the senator’s concern.
“This is really becoming a big issue in our area,” said Christine Haider, chairperson of Community Board 11. “If the mayor puts this [plan] in, it’s really going to ruin the quality of our lives.”
Beverly McDermott, president of the Kissena Park Civic Association, raised health and safety concerns. Last December, the city held a campaign in Flushing and Middle Village — the two neighborhoods which account for the highest number of illegal conversions in Queens — to educate the public on the unsafe conditions in many illegally converted dwellings.
“There is nothing safe or healthy about living in a basement,” McDermott said. “Most basements, even the best ones, especially in the Flushing area, have dampness, which is not healthy … It is not a reasonable way for people to live.”
Linda Valentino, president of the Holliswood Civic Association, spoke of infrastructure, stating the change would alter zoning regulations for the worse.
“I don’t want to see [the neighborhood] changed,” Valentino said. “Queens is overpopulated at this point. To bring in any more people, and basically double what is already here, is basically insane.”
“We’re sending a message to the mayor here today,” Avella continued. “Don’t try and revive this idea, because we’re not gonna stand for it.”
Melissa Grace, deputy press secretary at the mayor’s office, said de Blasio is looking into the feasibility of a pilot program in Brooklyn.
“Any legalization of basement apartments would be based on their meeting safety codes to protect residents,” she said. “A multi-agency working group, including HPD, DOB, FDNY and DCP, is working with Councilman [Rafael] Espiñal and multiple community groups active in East New York to study the feasibility of a basement legalization pilot program in that community.”