STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined her sweeping plans to expand access to New York housing, including a proposal that New York City be given the authority to legalize basement apartments, during her State of the State address on Tuesday.
During her speech, Hochul emphasized that the Empire State’s increasing job opportunities are outpacing development of new homes.
“Over the last 10 years, our state has created 1.2 million jobs — but only 400,000 new homes. Many forces led to this state of affairs,” she said. “But front and center are the local land use policies that are the most restrictive in the nation.”
The governor’s New York Housing Compact, which she described as a “groundbreaking strategy to catalyze the housing development we need for our communities to thrive,” includes various plans to mitigate “red tape” that is slowing down development and create 800,000 new homes over the next decade.
One such a plan in the “State of the State Book” would create a pathway to legalize basement dwellings that are currently barred by law in New York City and “bring these homes out of the shadows” into a regulated market.
The policy would allow the city to provide amnesty by local law for existing basement units — known as accessory dwelling units (ADU) — that meet health and safety standards set by the city. This builds on the $85 million capital program in the governor’s housing plan in fiscal year 2023 to assist New York homeowners with converting basements to safe residences.
Hochul initially proposed ADU expansion that involved changing statewide zoning laws for last year’s state budget, but pulled it after being met with bipartisan pushback.
Staten Island residents protested, arguing that the zoning changes would change their neighborhoods forever.
According to estimates from the New York City Comptroller’s office, Staten Island has some of the highest numbers of basement apartments alongside Queens and Brooklyn. Exact numbers are unknown, due to the secrecy of ADUs in an underground market.
City Comptroller Brad Lander released a report in August 2022 in which he proposed the creation of “Basement Resident Protection Law” to institute a board to regulate basement apartments with a particular interest in safety compliance.
Flooding during storms has brought concerns about the welfare of ADU residents to the forefront. Lander pointed to the devastation Hurricane Ida wrought in 2021 to illustrate the need to bring ADUs into a regulated market.
Of the 13 deaths recorded after the September storm, 11 died in illegal basement apartments located in Brooklyn and Queens. The city’s Buildings Department reported that five of the six basement apartments had been illegally converted.