Housing advocates want basement units 1

Advocates for alternative homes want legislation that would regulate and legalize basement dwellings.

A coalition of 60 housing advocates throughout New York signed a letter to legalize accessory dwelling units earlier this month.

Accessory Dwelling Units New York, an advocacy group for legalizing basements as housing units, believe that if the For the Accessory Homes Enabling Act (A4854/S4547) gets support it will open up 100,000 affordable units of living space for New Yorkers struggling to pay rent.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), would provide regulations designed to make sure basement apartments are up to code; that the state can enforce the code; ensure that units are habitable spaces for independent living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation for renters; and that the homes are 800 square feet and 7 feet high, with 2 feet above curb level.

If enacted, the bill would request subletters to get permits for the basement dwellings and require municipalities to have an administrative appeal process for permits that are denied and instructions on how an individual may appeal such a denial. It also says that 180 days after the bill is potentially signed into law that low- and moderate-income homeowners should have access to a financing program to create an accessory dwelling unit.

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson (D-South Ozone Park) and 15 others have co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly. State Sens. Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and four others support the bill in the state Senate, where it is being reviewed by the Judiciary Committee.

ADUNY believes that had basement apartments been regulated, there would not have been such horrific flooding in those dwellings in September when Tropical Storm Ida touch downed in New York.

Eight people died in Queens from the storm, and most were in basement apartments when they were killed, according to officials.

“A lot of undocumented immigrants rent basement apartments,” Jennifer Hernandez of Make the Road New York at 92-10 Roosevelt Ave. in Elmhurst, one of the 60 organizations that signed the letter, said.

“They are a big part of the population and this is their only affordable way to stay in the city.”

An estimated 866,000 undocumented people live in New York, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.

“They do it to be near jobs and near transportation,” said Hernandez. “We know these are not the safest units for families and people in general. Lives were lost to Ida during the flooding in the basements in Queens. We really think the state needs to figure out ways to make these units safer. New York struggles with real affordable housing.”

Legalizing basement dwellings and making sure they are up to code would prevent more tragedy, added Hernandez.

“There needs to be investment to improve these units in a way to make them affordable to the population that needs them,” she said.

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