When she began researching Department of Buildings complaints, South Ozone Park resident Rokshana Ali found that her adjacent community boards 9 and 10 together were listed as having the highest number of illegal basement conversion complaints from 2010 to 2018 in the entire city.
On Wednesday, Ali joined South Queens legislators and housing advocacy group Chhaya CDC at an online campaign launch lobbying for the legalization of safe and affordable basement apartments that are prohibited by New York City zoning and building codes.
The Basement Apartment Safe for Everyone Campaign, a coalition of homeowners, tenants, community organizations and housing policy professionals, is aiming to create citywide legislation following the model of the East New York pilot program, an initiative that began to test ways of legalizing basement apartments before it was shelved due to Covid-related budget cuts.
“The basement apartment program is an opportunity for our city to increase affordable housing to those who need it. The need for affordable housing in our city has never, ever been greater,” said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) at the online event.
In coordination with its affiliated state and city legislators, the campaign is planning to roll out a regulatory framework for basement housing at the city level.
Rebekah Morris of the Pratt Center for Community Development laid out three pillars for the coming legislation that would build off of the East New York pilot.
First, in addition to basement conversion, it would also extend cellars, which the city defines as being more than 50 percent below curb level. With added safety requirements, Morris argued that would be a valuable addition.
The coalition would also like to see converted cellars be exempted from a building’s floor-area-ratio calculation because if that was treated the same as floorspace above ground level, it would potentially put a building out of compliance with its zoning.
“Our analysis has found that if FAR is still required for cellars, there are 71,000 that could be eligible, which is a good number. But if FAR is exempted that number skyrockets to over 330,000,” Morris said.
The second area that needs to be fixed is parking restrictions, Morris said. New units would also need to be able to opt out of the mandatory number of parking spaces to accord with zoning requirements.
Lastly the coalition called for the allowance of 7-foot ceilings, as opposed to the East New York pilot that required converted units to have a ceiling height of 7 feet, 6 inches.
“As we roll out at our statewide plan, we will push the issues that I know this coalition and the BASE apartment campaign focuses on,” said Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), who, he pointed out, was joined in the audience by fellow Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson (D-Far Rockaway).