Legislation calls for the legalization of basement apartments

Janaki Rai, an 18-year-old high school student in Queens, has been living in a basement apartment for 5 years.

She’s one of over 100,000 New Yorkers who call their cellar-style basement home, despite them being deemed illegal by the city’s Department of Buildings.

She says she lives in constant fear of the police knocking on her door and can’t afford the rising costs of rent in New York City.

“We need safety,” said Rai, speaking through a translator.

Last week, she stood alongside elected officials in Flushing’s Diversity Plaza, where lawmakers stated that the time is now to legalize basement apartments in New York City.

Legislation introduced by Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and State Senator Brian Kavanagh would pave the way for the city to enact local laws pertaining to legalizing basement apartments.

The bill, S8783/A9802, would allow for a program to be established to help bring existing basement apartments up to state safety code, without having to comply with laws that have long banned the formalization of the basement units.

Officials say that basement apartments often do not contain safety features, including proper egress, electrical systems or ventilation.

“We started working on basement apartments 15 years ago,” Assemblyman Epstein said at the rally held at Diversity Plaza. “Unfortunately, the struggles of New Yorkers haven’t changed much. We have an opportunity here.”

Epstein, the chair of the Assembly subcommittee on Retention of Homeownership, and Kavanagh, the chair of the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, said the crisis of basement apartments became more apparent last September when 11 New Yorkers lost their lives due to Hurricane Ida.

Epstein and Kavangh were joined by New York City Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz, City Comptroller Brad Lander, Councilman Shekar Krishnan, community housing advocates Chhaya Community Development Corporation, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, and members of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).

Rai, a member of DRUM for four years, was praised for her courage to speak up about her experiences living in a basement apartment.

CHHAYA Executive Director Annetta Seecharran says the issue of legalizing basement apartments has long been ignored by city and state officials, calling it a “thorny” issue that leaves thousands of tenants vulnerable to sudden eviction, which could lead to homelessness.

“We cannot allow another Ida situation to happen,” Seecharran said. “It’s time to finally fix this problem. The city and state must work together to address this issue, and we feel that the moment is now.”

The legislation comes with the support of Mayor Eric Adams, and a coalition of housing advocacy groups throughout the city, including AARP New York, the BASE Campaign, Chhaya CDC, Citizens Housing & Planning Council, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Pratt Center for Community Development, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Housing Justice for All, and the Regional Plan Association.

The bill would specifically allow cities in the state of New York with a population of one million people or more (there’s only one) to create an amnesty program for existing basement units.

The legislation defines an “accessory dwelling unit” as an attached or detached residential dwelling unit that provides complete independent living for one or more people, and located on the same lot as a single-family or multi-family dwelling as a proposed or existing primary residence. The unit must also contain permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, bathing and washing, and sanitation.

The bill currently sits in the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee, with just a little under a month left in the legislative session, which ends Tuesday, June 2.

“It’s long past time we legalize Accessory Dwelling Units to protect residents from deadly disasters and contribute to solving the affordable housing crisis,” Comptroller Brad Lander said. “This critical bill will protect 100,000 vulnerable New Yorkers living in basement apartments and ensure the tragedies of Hurricane Ida are not repeated.”

Playwright breaks a world record

Bobby Lang, the local playwright, director, and producer behind Nu Imperial Image Productions, recently made history in Queens with his original play, “Allure.”

“Allure” is an off-Broadway play that debuted last Friday at Hunters Point Community Middle School. It is a one-woman show that features 81 characters, surpassing the current Guinness World Record of 65 characters.

Daria Shevchenko, an actress and model from Odesa, Ukraine, is the show’s leading woman, who encapsulates the story of the main character, Brianna.

The audience follows Brianna through different day-to-day interactions, where she encounters a variety of obstacles and difficult circumstances.

“It tells a story of a woman who goes through really challenging moments in life, being supported by friends, family, and all the people that are around her every day. Somehow, these people play a more meaningful role in such a dark time,” Shevchenko said. “This story shows how

Brianna is being accommodated by all the guide people around her, and how sometimes, one word of support can change your day, and even your life.”

Lang, who is Brooklyn-born and Queens-raised, said he was motivated to write this play in order to showcase various themes that are important to his life and artistry.

“I wanted to accomplish something, and I really like to raise the bar sometimes. During a time of women’s empowerment, ‘Allure’ shows the audience the strength of a female along with her story,” Lang said.

He added that the 81 characters was a very deliberate decision, paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant — who is well respected for scoring 81 points against the Raptors in 2006.

Although Shevchenko earnestly accepted the role for “Allure,” she said that the script was like nothing she had ever seen before as an actress.

While challenging, she said that the overall experience has been quite rewarding.

“I wasn’t sure it would be possible to do,” she said. “But then, as I read it through, I realized that there are so many characters around us every day as we walk through New York City. So why can’t I just bring all those characters to life in the play?”

Being Ukrainian and feeling the devastating effects of the war in her home country, Shevchenko said that the character of Brianna closely resonated with her, which helped her become more connected to the role.

“The war in Ukraine happened while I was already committed to the role, and I realized that I, Daria Shevchenko, am Brianna today because I am going through terrible situations, terrible pain, and loss of relationships,” she said.

“It is a very painful time in my life, and I’m actually so inspired by the kindness of people surrounding me,” she continued, “they kept me going and pushed me to pursue my acting and this performance. I knew that if I fell, they would catch me, so no matter how painful it is, having my friends and family was something I cannot express enough gratitude for.”

Lang said that he hopes to put on a local tour of “Allure,” where it will run in various locations across the city.

He plans to invite the Guinness Book of World Records to an upcoming performance to commemorate the 81-character record breaker.

“I just want audiences to be entertained. There is a message behind ‘Allure,’ which is the strength and empowerment of women, and how a person can be beautiful both inside and outside,” Lang said. “You may be going through tough times, but if you have a support system, you can get through it. But most of all, I want people just to have the very experience of a one-woman play, because it is extremely difficult to do.”


Kathleen Conlisk passed away on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at the age of 71. Beloved Wife of Daniel. Devoted Mother of Daniel, Jennifer, Jacqueline, Christopher, Jason, Shannon and Tricia. Dear Sister of Paul and Janice. Also survived by 10 grandchildren. Services offered at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church. Cremation was at Fresh Pond Crematory under the direction of Hess-Miller Funeral Home, 64-19 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village, NY 11379.


Margaret Scaturro passed away on Thursday, April 28, 2022 at the age of 92. Beloved Mother of Marie Scaturro and Nunzio Adam Scaturro. Loving Grandmother of Lisa, James, Jessica and Patrick. Cherished Great-Grandmother of Robbie, Adriana, Gavin, Demitra and Reese.  Mass of Christian Burial offered at Transfiguration Church on Monday, May 2, 2022 at 9:30 AM. Private Cremation followed at Fresh Pond Crematory, Middle Village, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.


Frances Mallia passed away on Friday, April 29, 2022 at the age of 94. Beloved Wife of the late Joseph P. Mallia. Loving Mother of Carol Donargo, Valerie Mallia and Mark & Diana Mallia. Cherish Grandmother of Alexandra, Krista, Alyssa and Daniella. Mass of Christian Burial offered at St. Matthias Church on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 at 10:15 AM. Interment followed at Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, NY under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.


Ruth Emmy Stoeger passed away on Saturday, April 30, 2022 at the age of 73. Beloved Wife of Bernd Stoeger. Loving Companion of Bob Casparian. Cherished Sister of Lisa Simonetta. Dear Aunt of Melissa Hopkins & family.  Funeral Services held at Papavero Funeral Home on Thursday, May 5, 2022 from 6-9 PM. Religious Services offered by Rev. Michael Ross at 7:30 PM. Private Cremation followed at Fresh Pond Crematory, Middle Village, NY. Entombment of Cremains at George Washington Memorial Park, Paramus, NJ under the direction of Papavero Funeral Home, 72-27 Grand Avenue, Maspeth NY 11378.

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