“Instead of turning a blind eye to the suffering of basement and cellar apartment dwellers, disproportionately low-income and from immigrant communities, we must find the political courage to face this challenge by legalizing and making them safe.”
This week 11 years ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York, killing over 100 people across the northeast and forever changing the way we think about emergency preparedness across the city.
The disaster impacted countless New Yorkers, particularly those in basement and cellar apartments. A number of the 44 residents who died in Hurricane Sandy were basement apartment dwellers, as were 11 of those who died in Hurricane Ida.
Just last month, basement apartments across New York City flooded yet again due to record rainfall, damaging many apartments and resulting in six emergency rescues. These preventable tragedies are the result of the city and state’s failure to enact policies to improve the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers living in basement and cellar apartments.
Instead of turning a blind eye to the suffering of basement and cellar apartment dwellers, disproportionately low-income and from immigrant communities, we must find the political courage to face this challenge by legalizing and making them safe.
Legalizing basement and cellar apartments would allow for better regulations to protect more tenants. A bill in the state legislature, A1075/S2276, would allow for the establishment of a program to address the legalization of specified accessory dwelling units in New York City.
An estimated 50,000 basement units are currently being misused for residential purposes. This bill would allow them to be brought up to code, addressing health and safety issues such as lack of proper egress, electrical systems, ventilation, and other basic safety features.
Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Ida, and last month’s torrential downpour have shown us that we put New Yorkers at risk when we do not deal with the realities of basement apartment living in New York City. Many of the constituents we represent in the Assembly have been directly impacted by our inaction on basement dwellings; in Queens, 11 individuals tragically lost their lives due to flooding in their basement apartments for example. We have an opportunity to learn from these disasters and charter a path forward that will allow for safer conditions for all New Yorkers.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and the Regional Plan Association all support the Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) initiative, which advocates for a legal pathway for converting New York City basements and cellars into safe, healthy, and affordable apartments.
This issue is not controversial, it’s common sense. We encourage our colleagues in Albany to pass A1075/S2276 before the end of this session, and the governor to sign it into law. Legalizing basement and cellar apartments will save lives.
Jessica González-Rojas is a member of the New York State Assembly representing the 34th District in Queens. Harvey Epstein is a member of the New York State Assembly representing the 74th District on Manhattan’s east side.