Writing for Urban Omnibus, Seema Agnani, executive director of the New York-based community development corporation Chhaya makes the case for legitimizing these spaces as new affordable housing for the city.
"Basement apartments are a legitimate source of affordable housing; the issue is that they need to be brought up to code. If they were, unsafe conditions would be improved, tenants could be guaranteed their rights, and owners could regularize their ability to collect rent and insure the protection of their property. But we've found that many elected officials are afraid to touch this issue; they see it as an issue of neighborhood preservation, with a lot of the more established residents feeling that new immigrants are coming in and ruining their communities. But the City is draining all sorts of resources. Judges in the court system are frustrated with the number of complaints, but there is nothing they can do to tackle the issue. The Department of Buildings is tired of having to issue these fines, despite the revenue. It's also a huge drain on public resources, resulting in overcrowded schools and overstretched social service provision. But if these units and the population that resides in them could be planned for, it could really be a resource for the city."