To increase affordable housing, NYC aims to legalize more basement apartments

By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
February 13, 2020 - 12:00PM

A garden-level studio, 122 Hawthorne St., in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The city wants to increase the number of legal basement apartments to ease the housing crisis.


In his 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a solution to the city’s affordable housing crisis: A plan to convert basement and garage apartments, as well as tiny, backyard houses, into safe and legal apartments.

The plan will require increased funding and some policy changes, including easing parking space requirements and setting aside $150 million in capital funds to finance low- to no-interest loans for homeowners to do work to bring basement apartments up to code.

The benefit of adding more legal basement apartments is two-fold: Homeowners would receive rental income and renters would gain 10,000 affordable apartments over the next decade.

A test of the program

Owners in Brooklyn’s Community District 5, which covers Cypress Hills and East New York, have an opportunity to participate in the Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program, sponsored by the Housing and Preservation Department in partnership with Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. The program will give up to 40 low- and middle-income homeowners of one- to three-family buildings low-interest loans to convert their basements into affordable apartments. Eligibility is based on your gross household income and size.

“The program will help access the feasibility of converting basements into affordable apartments,” says Matthew Creegan, communications director at HPD. “It’s a three-year program so we can take our time to figure out the needs of owners and access any challenges during the process.” 

Basement dwellings would need to meet the requirements of a legal basement apartment, or brought up to code, which requires two means of egress, ceilings with a minimum height of seven-and-a-half feet high, and a Certificate of Occupancy. Because basements are in various conditions, there’s no expectation as to how long a conversion will take in the program, says Creegan.

Relocation support is available for those who currently live in an illegal basement apartment, because the tenants will have to vacate during the conversion. 

The 40 owners will be chosen by the end of 2020. Owners who live in Community District 5 and are interested in participating can apply through May 31st. Meanwhile, de Blasio’s city-wide proposal awaits City Council approval.



Austin Havens-Bowen

Staff Writer

Staff writer Austin Havens-Bowen covers the rental market and answers renters' questions in a column called Realty Bites. He previously reported on local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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