Record rents push New Yorkers into basement homes
These New Yorkers aren’t afraid of the basement.
Last year, Caroline Caugliere, 28, a project manager, rented an apartment under a seven-unit, four-story residential building in Prospect Heights with her bartender boyfriend Christian, 30, and their two cats Sterling and Cyrus.
What their newly renovated digs lack in natural light was made up for with coveted amenities like a dishwasher, built-in washer / dryer, and large shower. The cool landscaping around the front of the building added privacy, blocking out foot traffic.
“I’m not sure we would have picked this apartment if it didn’t offer the amenities,” Caugliere said of the building where unit prices range from $ 2,000 for a one-bedroom to $ 4,500 for one three bedrooms per month. “But it really is like a home for the last year we’ve lived here!”
Although they have long been a staple of affordable city living, basement dwellings have a bad reputation. They conjure up images of grungy college crash pads – like greasy pizza boxes, dirty socks and pot smoke – or unsafe, windowless modern housing occupied by overcrowded immigrant families.
In fact, a diverse range of more than 150,000 people currently live in the estimated 50,000 basement apartments across the city, according to published reports.
However, no one can say for sure how many New Yorkers live below ground, under townhouses and apartment buildings. This is because, despite the government’s half-hearted efforts in recent years to regulate basement units, these apartments remain largely untraceable and illegal.
This policy failure was highlighted after record flooding this fall drowned 11 New Yorkers in their illegal basement apartments and damaged thousands of other homes.
But as New York City rents hit record highs, basement units, both legal and illegal, are an even more alluring alternative than ever.
The median net effective rent in Manhattan rose 10.1% between July and October and 20% since January, with inflation reaching its highest level since 1990, according to data compiled by Miller Samuel / Douglas Elliman.
Brokers are now reporting a race to the bottom with interest in these traditionally less attractive homes high.
Those prices alone are more than enough reason to drive tenants like Caugliere underground, but basement apartments also offer tenants an extra layer of privacy during the pandemic, according to Compass broker Isaac Rosenberg.
“An apartment in the basement allows for the least possible contact with other people,” said Rosenberg. “A lot of people overlook basement apartments, but with prices soaring in New York City and increasing creativity with the use of space, these are actually hidden gems!”
Other unexpected benefits of cave dwelling are the deep window wells that are built into the walls, which serve as additional surfaces, as well as cooler and more consistent temperatures, which means less pressure on the bill. electricity.
Caugliere sums it all up in one word: “Cozy”.
For all these reasons, Executive Assistant Michelle Lugo, 39, is currently looking for a house specifically for a basement apartment.
“People have to be creative with where they live,” she said. “Basement apartments are a much more affordable option, especially since the market is hot and expensive right now. “
She is looking for a legal basement apartment that meets strict city codes.
In theory, basement apartments require windows, ceilings at least 7 feet high, and minimum size rooms set by the housing maintenance code. The walls should also be as high as ground level and waterproofed if deemed necessary by the Department of Preservation and Housing Development.
This is Lugo’s first time looking for a basement apartment, but she is thrilled with the possibilities and is already planning her interior design, which she describes as “rustic chic”, with lots of stainless steel and wood. . She plans to get a shelf that matches both look and feel, patterned fabric to make unique curtains, and plenty of lamps to brighten up potentially darker underground spaces.
“The basement apartments give you a more private and comfortable feeling,” Lugo said.
Interior designer Kevin Maberly – who stylizes medical spaces and knows a thing or two about decorating drab boxes – recommends opening up a confined space by using lots of white or soft, bright colors, while adding more personality on the walls by hanging valuables, pictures and paintings.
“You absolutely can lead a creative and aesthetic life in a basement apartment,” he said. “If the rooms are tiny, make them comfortable and private. Try to use entire walls to get maximum benefit.
Mirrors are another classic trick that helps brighten darker spaces and continuously magnify any light, said Caroline Solomon, a New York-based home organizer and stylist.
“Consider placing floor-to-floor mirrors near your apartment windows in dimly lit hallways and narrow stairways,” she said. “It will instantly create the illusion of more space and light. “
Lower ceilings mean less storage space, so use light-colored bins to store items and take advantage of wall space, including installing floating shelves or floor-to-ceiling shelves “to create the illusion.” higher ceilings. Just be careful not to overcrowd each shelf, as clutter is magnified in dimly lit spaces, ”Solomon said.
Caugliere updated many hacks to turn his basement apartment into a dream home.
“A big change we just made was blocking the colors of some walls in our main room so that there is a small dimension and separation of our kitchen and living room, because everything is one big room” , Caugliere said. “We also learned to mount whatever we could on the wall to save floor space.” In addition, they have hung plants all around the apartment, which attracts attention to the windows and the natural light entering.
Solomon agrees that the more green, the better in the basement apartments.
“Snake plants, ivy, and pothos all thrive in dimly lit spaces and also purify the air, which often becomes hot and stuffy in a basement,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to lean into the fact that you’re in a basement apartment,” Caugliere said. “One of the reasons we really love it is that it’s so comfortable! “