Avella, groups oppose legalized basement apartments
by Jess Berry
May 07, 2014 | 3509 views | 0 0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Senator Tony Avella with members of various Queens civic associations.
State Senator Tony Avella with members of various Queens civic associations.
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State Senator Tony Avella was joined outside of his office in Bayside by numerous community members and civic association representatives last week, wielding picket signs and protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s potential plan to legalize basement apartments.

De Blasio first posited the basement apartments proposal during the mayoral campaign, and Avella and his supporters were standing against the idea last Friday, before de Blasio released his official Affordable Housing Plan on Monday.

“We’re here to make a very strong statement against Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to legalize illegal basements,” Avella said.

Avella mentioned a number of reasons to oppose legalizing basement apartments, including the issues that would come with having to redo zoning in the city, the safety issues for both residents and firefighters who have to enter the unsafe apartments when there is an emergency, and the fact that the apartments are “substandard housing.”

President of the Queens Civic Congress Richard Hellenbrecht echoed Avella’s concerns, speaking on behalf of the many neighborhoods his organization represents.

“The primary concern of the hundred civic and block associations, condo and co-op groups and historical societies that Queens Civic Congress represents is neighborhood preservation and stabilization,” Hellenbrecht said.

“We have very serious concerns. First, for the safety of residents in basement apartments; and secondly, for the impacts of crowding on quality of life issues in our low density residential areas,” he said. “Traffic, parking, schools, water and sewers, sanitation and crime are all impacted by cramming more people into buildings not designed for apartments. We certainly hope that [Mayor de Blasio] drops this proposal as he moves forward and if he doesn’t, we will fight it all the way till the end.”

De Blasio revealed his Affordable Housing Plan on Monday, May 5. In the plan, he addresses the issue of illegal apartments in a way that seems to suggest that he is still open to looking into all options for bringing these apartments to code.

The section of the plan regarding “informal dwelling units” mentions, as Avella did, the safety of the occupants and first responders. It then reads: “The City will work with the relevant stakeholders to examine how best to bring these units into the regulated housing system, including a review of other cities’ best practices to bring fresh ideas to the discussion.”

When asked about how he was taking into consideration the outer boroughs that already feel overburdened and overcrowded, de Blasio said that he is aware of the concerns and is trying to “strike a balance.”

“The vast majority of us live in the outer boroughs,” de Blasio said. “I think I've made clear my perspective in terms of the focus on outer borough neighborhoods. At the same time, those are exactly the places where people, rightfully, are clamoring for more affordable housing because they're so desperately concerned about being priced out of their own neighborhoods. So, we have to strike a balance.”

With the announcement of the housing plan, Avella said he expected to see more elected officials and community members from around the boroughs opposing legalized basement apartments if the mayor chooses to pursue that option.

“If he does make it a formal proposal, I think you’re going to see a lot of opposition come forward, and then we’ll start to reach out to other boroughs,” Avella said. “This is just not going to happen.”

State Senator Tony Avella stood with community members protesting legalized basement apartments.

First Vice President of the Auburndale Improvement Association Henry Euler spoke out against legalizing basement apartments.

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