Boro civics oppose legalization of basements apartments

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The idea to legalize basement apartments in the borough and the rest of the city is not sitting well with several civic and community associations in the borough.

First it was Mayor Bill de Blasio, who resurrected the conversion idea as part of his affordable housing units plan to add 200,000 units in the next 10 years. And recently, Borough President Melinda Katz, who supports the measure, considered the plan to create new zoning districts for basement and cellar apartments.

At a news conference days before she delivered her State of the Borough Address Jan. 22, Katz said that “illegal conversions lack safety.” She said it was necessary for these converted spaces below ground to be safe.

Those who oppose the idea pointed out that fires in these units had proven to be deadly, and that increasing the capacity in single- and two-family districts overburden the schools, the sewage system and garbage collections.

The Bayside Hills Civic Association is one of the associations fighting to prevent widespread basement living from becoming a reality. The group disagrees with new zoning regulations being proposed to legalize these apartments.

“A basement is no place for someone to live,” said Michael Feiner, president of the civic group. “Zoning regulations are in place for a reason.” Yolanda Gallagher, of the Fresh Meadows Homeoweners Civic Association, said her organization also opposes these conversions.

“It’s just very unhealthy to live in a basement,” Gallagher said. “This is just a bad idea, a very bad idea.”

She noted that basement apartments do not have good ventilation, and most of them have very small windows. “It’s just dangerous to live in them,” she said.

The Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella organization representing more than 100 civic and condo groups in the borough, is against the legalization of basements “due to life safety, fire, congestion, school overcrowding, crime and overuse of city infrastructure, such as water treatment, sewage and transportation facilities.”

The organizations added, “We believe that most small homes with basements were not built for occupancy below grade.”

In a letter sent by Richard Hellenbrecht, the former president of the Queens Civic Congress, to de Blasio, he noted “legalization of illegal residences would encourage creation of new basements, cellar apartments leading to significant overdevelo­pment.”

But Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), agrees with Katz’s and de Blasio’s plan to legalize basements and cellars.

“Overcrowding and overdevelopment are a challenge in Corona and the outerboroughs today,” Ferreras said. “If basement apartments are brought up to code, apartments that are already in use in many homes, it would address this shortage of housing while eliminating many threats those unregulated apartments pose to families in our community.”

She added, “Done right, it would be an innovative, sensible solution.”

And Basements Apartments Safe for Everyone, a coalition that favors adding accessory dwellings to the city’s zoning code, said last year that creating a new zoning category would improve an unaffordable housing market.

Researchers said Queens has the most unregulated housing in the city. A report released by BASE in cooperation with the Pratt Center for Community development in 2008 found that South Jamaica and Hollis are in the top-five of the list of neighborhoods with the biggest illegal home market in the city.

Jackson Heights-based Chhaya Community Development Corp., part of BASE, has been working on the issue for the past 10 years.

Its interim executive director, Tenzing Chadotsang, said the group supports legalizing basements in an effort to provide affordable housing “for certain segments of the population and it also gives a source of income to homeowners.”

Chadotsang said the group hopes to work closely with Katz “to determine which are the best areas” to legalize these apartments.

Posted 12:00 am, January 30, 2015
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Reader feedback

lou from bayside says:
Most of those running these so called civic associations are dyed in the wool democarats who elect the same shmucks year after year. You elected a putz like Deblasio so this is what you get!
Jan. 30, 2015, 6:50 am
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
And this is why City Council sucks. No one with balls is willing to stand up for what is right and say NO.

Basement apartments are just plain BAD!

What needs to be focused on is shady construction, higher violation fines, crackdown on illegal conversions and hold landlords accountable for their crap buildings.

But our city council is like most of the buildings in Queens, CRAP.
Jan. 30, 2015, 7:04 am
better than a basement from Queens says:
How about sending them to Gitmo. The rooms are nicer and so is the weather. Seriously who needs these fire traps and their residents with their out of state registered cars.
Jan. 30, 2015, 11:47 am
Danny and NOT DROMM from Jackson Hts says:
WE Have Enough Illegal Crap Going on in Our So Called NEIGHBOR-Hoods, Always Giving In to ALL Who COME to Stay ILLEGALLY! Why Dont ALL of You Counsel REPS Get out Of Office, You All ARE Destroying Our Neighborhoods!!
Jan. 30, 2015, 12:02 pm
Frank from Rosedale says:
Sure, Joe and Danny when you take off your hoods and white capes - maybe we will move out of YOUR (?) neighborhoods.
Jan. 30, 2015, 2:29 pm
go frank go from queens says:
If you are in favor of putting people in damp dangerous basements then yes I hope you move far away
Jan. 30, 2015, 3:54 pm
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
Did not know "Frank from Rosedale" that making a comment on how basement apartments are and the risk they pose makes one a racist.
Jan. 31, 2015, 8:03 am
Frank from Rosedale says:
Joe from Jamaica- the generalization that basement apartments are just BAD! - a sweeping statement.
Not all basement apartments are illegal - and do not pose any risks or dangers- a very NIMBY attitude and a redlining tactic to keep new folks out of neighborhoods.
Feb. 2, 2015, 5:22 pm
prove it from Queens says:
To Frank where are these wonderful legal safe basement apartments for your New Folks. Right, they do not exist. Basements are leaky moldy and unsafe for old folks and for new folks. Housing becomes affordable when people have jobs with benefits and regular raises. Because of Obama care now many people have neither.
Feb. 4, 2015, 10:31 am
Michael from Bayside Hills from Bayside Hills says:
Looks as though we have a battle on our hands. We're going to have watch this affordable housing and permitting people to live in currently illegal basements very judiciously. Most certainly there are communities such as ours in Bayside Hills, where permitting people to live in our basements is totally unacceptable!
Feb. 5, 2015, 9:07 am
Angel Chacon from Richmond Hill says:
They say is unsafe to live, but on any natural catastrophe is the only safe place at home, if they make a real good aconditioning ,it will work, I think
Feb. 25, 2015, 4:43 pm

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