New York’s Housing Underground: 13 Years Later is an updated analysis to our 2008 report New York’s Housing Underground, which found over 100,000 unaccounted-for “informal” basements, cellars and other units across New York City. This brief used a similar method and found that although there are still many unaccounted-for units, these units are predominantly found in BIPOC communities with higher levels of rent burden and poverty than the citywide average.
These unaccounted-for units are largely located within 8 communities:
- Brooklyn Community District 5—East New York / Starrett City
- Manhattan Community District 12—Washington Heights / Inwood / Marble Hill
- Queens Community District 8—Briarwood / Fresh Meadows / Hillcrest
- Brooklyn Community District 18—Canarsie / Flatlands
- Brooklyn Community District 16—Brownsville / Ocean Hill
- Queens Community District 3—Jackson Heights / North Corona / East Elmhurst
- Brooklyn Community District 9—Crown Heights South / Prospect Lefferts / Wingate
- Brooklyn Community District 17—East Flatbush / Farragut
Pratt Center undertook this analysis following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida on September 1, 2021. Although there has been some movement towards a citywide legalization policy since the 2008 report was published, the avoidable loss of 11 lives in flooded basement apartments during Ida made it clear that there was an urgent need for fresh data that could fuel public conversation and propel action to make these units safe and habitable.
Basement apartments are home to thousands of New Yorkers, many working class immigrants and people of color. New Yorkers living in these spaces are already bearing the brunt of climate disasters, and the City has a responsibility to take immediate measures that ensure habitable and safe homes for all New Yorkers, while addressing the citywide housing affordability crisis. This means decriminalizing basement apartments, updating the building and zoning codes to ease compliance for homeowners while mitigating the threat of flooding, and implementing and providing appropriate funding for programs to upgrade, legalize and regulate basement units.