Friday, December 11, 2009

Illegal apartments "fill a need" (but could kill you)

From the Gotham Gazette:

Illegal units have been around since the 1940s when owners opened their doors to returning World War II veterans. But the homes first got negative public attention in the 1990s after a series of fires occurred in Queens.

Today, most of the illegal residences are one and two family homes whose owners have reconstructed cellars and basements to rent out. Cellars, which have more than half of their height below curb level, cannot be legal apartments under city regulations. Owners also carve out illegal single-room occupancy residences by partitioning bedrooms on upper floors.

This "housing underground," as Chhaya Community Development Corp., a nonprofit housing advocacy and economic development and justice organization, calls it, has mushroomed in predominantly middle-class residential neighborhoods of Queens. These neighborhoods attract immigrants seeking a new start. Many feel fairly comfortable because they already house people from their home countries.

Property owners created more than 114,000 illegal so-called "accessory dwellings" between 1990 and 2000, accounting for about 50 percent of apartments produced in the city during that period. In Queens roughly 48,000 illegal units were built, representing 73 percent of all housing constructed in the borough during that decade, according to the Pratt Center for Community Development, a university based advocacy, planning, the actual number of such residences is almost certainly higher.

While the divided houses often violate fire and other safety ordinances and zoning regulations, they offer many New Yorkers their only source of affordable housing. The city has an apartment vacancy rate of less than 3 percent, according to the latest Housing and Vacancy Survey. Under state law, anything below 5 per cent constitutes a housing emergency.

In addition to recent immigrants, the divided buildings house college students and provide a lifeline for low-income people as well as New Yorkers hard-hit by the recession.

The foreclosure crisis has spurred more of these divided homes. The illegal apartments provide steady rental income to homeowners who cannot otherwise meet their mortgage payments.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, and I worked for the Census department and saw places where the utility rooms in the basement where subdivided and turned into multiple dwellings.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning, fires, and heat exhaustion threaten the lives of many.

primadonna said...

How can people live like sardines?

mpineiro said...

Maybe if all the fancy new "crap" was tailored towards middle and low income renters instead of high end buyers who will never arrive, we wouldn't have so few legal apartments available.

Anonymous said...

You know I'm coincidentally re-reading the great photographic essay book "How the Other Half Lives", written by reformer Jacob Riis around 1901. It is literally history repeating itself. The floor plans in that book of airless, lightless, multi-room tenements, look just like the diagrams shown in this posting.

Anonymous said...

Turning a blind eye to illegal apartments because they provide affordable housing to people because they earn lower incomes is like excusing a drunk for getting behind the wheel because he's an alcoholic. It's not okay! People are dying because of landlords renting out their basements and attics.

mike the realtor said...

Landlords don't rent illegal apartments, criminals do. When we learn to separate the two we will start making progress.

Why we have illegal apartments said...

Peter Vallone says:

The rezoning is an effort to prevent people from tearing down existing buildings to construct new buildings that are out of character ...

(fair enough)

while allowing homeowners to improve and expand their property in context with the area.”

(now read between the lines)

Anonymous said...

Landlords don't rent illegal apartments, criminals do. When we learn to separate the two we will start making progress.

Jihadists dont' blow up buildings, terrorists do. When we learn to separate the two we will start making progress.