A new report by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC) revealed some startling obstacles in the effort to make basement apartments safer for low-income and immigrant New Yorkers.
The issue first gained prominence following Hurricane Ida in 2021, which claimed the lives of 13 people, including 11 individuals who were trapped in their basements.
Since then, advocates have been calling on the state and city to improve safety conditions in basement apartments, especially as New York City continues to deal with a lack of housing stock.
Howard Slatkin, the director of CHPC, appeared on "Mornings On 1" Thursday to discuss the findings of the report, saying the primary hindrance to bringing basement apartments up to code are the stringent state and city requirements.
“Sometimes the state multiple dwelling law tells you that you need a few more inches of clearance on your ceiling. And so what an owner has to do is excavate the building's foundation to dig out a few inches that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and really put the opportunity for legalization completely out of reach,” he said.
Slatkin said the work-arounds then used to create basement apartments put tenants at risk for flooding and other tragedies.
“The effect of these kinds of impractical requirements is to erect barriers that prevent these units from being made legal and it means that people are living at risk every day longer,” he said.
The CHPC report highlighted the vital role that basement apartments play in addressing the city's housing shortage, particularly for vulnerable populations such as immigrants and low-income individuals.
Slatkin also highlighted the importance of making the units accessible and safe, given their potential to alleviate the strain on the city's housing supply.
“This segment of the housing stock has become increasingly crucial in recent years, providing a lifeline for immigrants, low-income individuals, and those without access to other forms of housing in the city. It is imperative to ensure the availability and safety of these units.”
While some city lawmakers have voiced their support for relaxing restrictions to enhance the safety of basement apartments, little progress has been made.