In this report, we partnered with Chhaya CDC, a community based organization working with new immigrants in the borough of Queens to estimate the number of such units in two specific geographic regions and to assess the potential for owners to legalize existing units. The survey tool was developed using the Census Bureau’s triannual Housing and Vacancy Survey of New York City, thereby allowing comparability testing against the results. Additionally, the survey sought to provide insight into the current safety conditions of secondary basement units and assess the amount of work that would be needed to bring units up to code.
The two areas selected—one in Jackson Heights and the other in the Briarwood/Jamaica section of Queens—have very different housing stock characteristics, zoning, and histories of development. What makes the communities similar is that more than 55 percent of their populations are foreign-born, local schools are at or above 100 percent utilization, and overcrowding is a significant issue. In the Jackson Heights survey area, more than 41 percent of homes surveyed had received a complaint related to an illegal conversion; and in the Briarwood neighborhood nearly 17 percent had. And finally, both communities have been greatly affected by an increasing number of mortgage delinquencies and defaults related to the housing market turbulence.