More than a year and a half after 11 people drowned in New York City basement apartments during Hurricane Ida, activists are still fighting to legalize basement units — and make them safer.
Currently there is a bill in the state senate, S2276A, sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh, that would establish a program to address the legalization of specified basements and cellars and the conversion of other specified basements and cellars in a city with a population of one million or more.
“This is a no-brainer solution to the affordable housing crisis,” Annetta Seecharran, executive director of Chhaya, said at a recent rally in support of the bill. It’s simple. It’s already home for so many people. We have to pass this legislation. We’re ready. The nonprofits are ready. The tenants are ready. The homeowners are ready. So, let’s do this.”
Following Hurricane Ida, Epicenter reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke to Angelica, an immigrant from Mexico who, along with her husband and three children, had been living in a basement apartment for eight years. She explained firsthand, the need for legalization of the units.
“I think that basement apartments should be legalized as long as they have the requirements to be safe for people to live in because they are not usually as expensive as regular apartments. Even though sometimes it is hard to make sure the place is safe, for fires and everything because the hardest place to get to in case of an emergency is the basement. We are always at risk because we are right next to the boilers,” Angelica said. “Basements are not the best places to live, but some families don’t have a choice. The rent in a basement is usually lower and that’s why some of us risk ourselves living in a basement. You never know what could happen, but it’s a risk that we take; we have no choice.”
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein echoed that sentiment at last week’s rally.
“We have a crisis in New York…These are our neighbors. They’re already here. They’re already living in these apartments. We want them to be safer.”