Landlords might actually like this de Blasio housing policy

Mayor set aside $5.7M in preliminary budget for basement apartment pilot program

Basement apartments and Mayor Bill de Blasio
Basement apartments and Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget includes $5.7 million in funding to bring basement apartments in East New York up to code while keeping their rents below market rate. The pilot program, if successful, could lead to 5,000 more apartments citywide counted toward the mayor’s affordable housing goals.

“We’ve got to keep looking for new ways still to create and preserve affordable housing,” de Blasio said. “We have to prove the model first, and we’re going to do that in East New York.”

The mayor made the announcement as he presented his preliminary budget Thursday, Politico reported.

The 5,000-unit projection appears to account for roughly 11 percent of the number of current basement units, which a 2002 survey pegged at 45,000 units across the city.

De Blasio in 2016 floated the idea of legalizing basement apartments to help fulfill his pledge of creating or preserving 200,000 affordable units.

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As part of the program, the city will help landlords resolve building and fire code issues to bring units to legal status. It would also loan money to cover retrofitting costs and tenant relocations, a spokesperson told Politico.

“We believe, minimally, there are 5,000 apartments in this city that will qualify. Ultimately we’d love to see that number get even bigger, but we have to prove the model first and we’re going to do that in East New York,” de Blasio said.

But the issue could prove sticky for building owners. Thomas Buberl, chief executive officer of European insurance giant AXA SA, recently said that basement apartments in flood areas may not be insurable in the future due to global warming and rising sea levels.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal, whose district covers a portion of East New York, said the program is the result of a “basement legislation working group” formed in October 2016. He said a nonprofit group would reach out to homeowners renting their basement apartments.

“For too long tenants and homeowners were being put at risk of eviction and major fines, while the city was missing out on an opportunity to maintain thousands of affordable units,” he said. “I am excited for what the pilot program will yield for our immediate community, but I am also eager to see how this will reshape New York if the pilot is successful and goes to scale across the five boroughs.” [Politico]Rich Bockmann