Rafael Espinal

Legalizing basement apartments

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The future of affordable housing may be beneath Brooklyn’s front doors, at least if City Councilman Rafael Espinal has anything to do with it.

As part of negotiations over a 2016 rezoning in Espinal’s district, the lawmaker got Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team to agree to study legalizing basement apartments. City Hall set aside $12 million, which could be used for fixing up basement apartments, or if that’s not practical, funding other, small home repairs.

Rafael Espinal

Beginning summer 2016, representatives from Espinal’s office and community groups have been meeting with the FDNY and the departments of Buildings, Housing Preservation and Development and City Planning to explore whether the pilot program is feasible, according to de Blasio spokeswoman Melissa Grace.

“Any legalization of basement apartments would be based on their meeting safety codes to protect residents,” Grace said in a statement.

Espinal said the group has been studying ways to ensure the air quality of basements is safe and that there are sufficient buffers and protection from boilers, electrical hardware and other potentially hazardous equipment often kept in basements. He said zoning codes may also be a hurdle.

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But the councilman said many basements are already occupied in East New York, so making them safe is paramount. He also wants to use part of the $12 million to provide evaporating loans, which borrowers do not have to repay if certain conditions are met. In this case, Espinal would like homeowners to keep rent stable in their basements for the life of the loan.

“East New York has a lot of basement and cellar apartments that are being occupied already, and again, this is a way to also help subsidize the homeowners’ mortgages and keep them in their homes,” Espinal said. “I hope by June we have some sort of a plan put together to be able to push a pilot.”

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