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New York City Council Testimony on a Pilot Program to Create More Basement Apartments

Today, the Partnership for New York City submitted the following testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings on Int. 1004, which would establish a demonstration program to facilitate the creation and alteration of habitable apartments in basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family dwellings.

Thank you Chair Cornegy and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify on Int. 1004, a bill that would authorize a pilot program in East New York to facilitate the creation and alteration of habitable apartments in basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family dwellings. The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest private sector employers. We work together with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to enhance the economy of the five boroughs of New York City.

The Partnership played a historic role in affordable homeownership development in communities across the five boroughs during the 1980s and 1990s. We understand community concerns about overcrowding, safety and excess demand on neighborhood services that are frequent objections to the legalization of basement apartments. This pilot project is an excellent way to construct a program that addresses those concerns and allows the city to develop a prototype that can be scaled to create thousands of new housing units and provide extra income for large numbers of homeowners, especially seniors who are struggling to maintain their homes.

We urge the Council to pass Int. 1004. With a vacancy rate of only 3.63 percent, New York City suffers from a shortage of housing. This is especially true for affordable housing. In 2017, the vacancy rate for low-rent housing was just 1.15 percent and one-third of households had to pay 50 percent or more of their income for rent. Many New Yorkers pay too much for illegal, overcrowded housing units.

New York City desperately needs to add new housing to address these problems and legalizing basement apartments is a promising resource. One estimate suggests that tens of thousands of basement apartments could be legalized with simple changes to codes. This would provide additional housing supply while also reducing the dangers caused by illegal and substandard housing. Other cities, including San Francisco and Boston, facing the same housing shortage and affordability problems are using this strategy.

The demonstration program that would be authorized by Int. 1004 is a good start. The Partnership urges the city to enact this law, to evaluate and learn from the pilot program and to use the experience to push for permanent changes that would encourage further development of these units on existing properties that are currently underutilized.

Thank you.