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Don’t ban basement apartments; legalize them

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The horrific deaths of New Yorkers whose basement apartments flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida has shocked and surprised the nation and may well lead to pressure on building officials to crack down on or even seek to ban such housing. It’s a policy temptation which, though, understandable, should be resisted. The right goal for the city’s estimated 114,000 such units: Make them legal but safe. They combine affordability for tenants with crucial income for property owners, many of them immigrants.

Tragically, the de Blasio campaign began but then halted a loan program meant to legalize such units by ensuring they had safe means of egress— including from rising waters that could, as we’ve now seen, cause residents to drown in their own homes.

The vast extent of this shadow housing market of basement units — many in attached row houses and stretching from Jackson Heights to Richmond Hill to East New York — has long been well known. The Pratt Center for Community Development first released a report mapping their extent in 2008, appropriately titled “New York’s Housing Underground: A Refuge and Resource.” Since then, it has joined forces with community development groups, including the........

© NY Daily News

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