There are up to 210,000 basements and cellars across the city that could potentially be converted into legal apartments—enough to move the needle on the city’s housing crisis without pouring a single new building foundation.
But the legalization process is fraught with political and technical pitfalls, which is why a study released Thursday suggests that the de Blasio administration should start with a pilot program to capture the lowest hanging fruit: the roughly 38,000 basements in single-family homes that could be converted without any major changes to city or state law.
Trouble is, an interactive map provided along with the study shows that there is no ideal place to launch the pilot. While the simplest conversions can be found in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx—neighborhoods where homeowners would not be legally required to provide an additional parking space for each additional housing unit—these areas are not flush with suitable basements.
Far more potential exists in Staten Island, southeast Brooklyn, Queens and the eastern portion of the Bronx. These are also areas with high rates of foreclosure, suggesting that homeowners there would benefit from supplemental rental income. The only catch? By law, adding an apartment to a single-family home in many of these areas would require the creation of an additional parking space, posing significant economic and logistical challenges.
The study suggests finding a community that both supports the concept and has the inventory of basements, and calls on the city to provide homeowners with financial incentives, a list of knowledgeable contractors, expedited permits and waivers or modifications for certain building regulations that could be changed without city or state approval.