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Queens Chronicle

CB chairs debate de Blasio’s housing plan

Opposition to potentially legalizing basement apartments is at issue

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Thu May 29, 2014.

Mayor de Blasio’s daring new $41.1 billion plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade was welcomed by many Queens elected officials earlier this month.

However, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been’s presentation on the plan wasn’t so warmly embraced at a meeting of the Queens Borough Board on Monday.

According to the mayor’s plan, 120,000 of those affordable units would come from already existing spaces, including basement apartments.

But instead of the plan’s hefty price tag, it was the potential legalization of such illegal residences that had various community board chairpersons such as CB 13 head Bryan Block demanding answers.

According to Block, CB 13’s Land Use Committee was planning to pass a resolution against the mayor’s housing plan because of the basement apartment initiative, but he was able to convince the group to table the vote until he could ask Been about it himself.

“Can we say the city is holding off on basement apartments until it’s looked at further?” Block asked. “Is it moving forward?”

Been was noncommittal when faced with the question, saying simply that the city will take an in-depth look at the situation before making any sort of decision.

“We are not doing anything until we really study the issue to try and understand if there is any way to make these units safe, legal and keep them affordable,” Been said. “Unless we find ways to do that, we will not move forward.”

While many civic leaders and elected officials such as state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), the latter inquiring about the issue at the meeting, have categorically denounced the possibility, Been defended the city’s study of legalizing such dwellings.

“Of course we’re going to look at the issue,” she said. “To not look at it would be irresponsible.”

When pressed on the issue by CB 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr, CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton and CB 11 Chairwoman Christine Haider, Been expressed discontent at various Land Use Committees having voted against the plan.

“My only suggestion is to wait to resolve something until we have something,” Been said. “You’re resolving against us looking at the issue.”

According to Been, the proposed city investment for the plan is approximately $8.2 billion and no specific locations where construction would take place have been decided on yet.

While the mayor wishes for residential buildings to be taller instead of more numerous, Been says every structure to be built will be “contextual” and will fit in with the architecture of the surrounding area.

“We’re not just building houses, we’re building neighborhoods,” she said.

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