NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City has a new pilot program to turn basements and cellars into affordable apartments.

It’s starting in East New York, Brooklyn, but could soon expand.

As CBS2’s Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the neighborhood has a lot of one- and two-family homes.

“We’ll use East New York as the guinea pig of how this program can work and whether or not it will work,” said Councilman Rafael Espinal, who sponsored the pilot program. “If we’re able to create a successful program, then the hope is that well expand it citywide.”

The councilman said in East New York, 75 percent of basement apartments are being rented illegally, which he said is dangerous. So the pilot program will offer homeowners low-interest loans to renovate apartments to make sure they are safe.

Espinal told Kramer he worked with the FDNY and Department of Buildings to develop standards, making sure the apartments have sprinklers, adequate exits, windows and ventilation.

“There’s concerns about, for example, the fact that we have boilers and furnaces in the basement. The bill will allow for homeowners to wall-off those furnaces,” he said.

“I feel like it’s a good idea. Some people don’t use their basements, so why not rent it out, give somebody else a chance to have a living space and make some extra money,” said Sean Raymond, of East New York.

“Very helpful for a lot of people in Brooklyn that’s being moved out of their homes,” Latiq Deveaux, of Far Rockaway, said.

In Astoria, Queens, another neighborhood with a lot of one- and two-family homes, there was less enthusiasm, Kramer reported.

“I don’t think so,” said one woman.

“It’s not safe in the first place. The neighborhood is already crowded,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Imagine having the basement rented, going to cause a lot of problems. We already have a lot of problems with parking.”

“I wouldn’t want to live in a cellar. I wouldn’t want to rent mine out either,” said Michael Daly. “Don’t do it, no need for it.”

The city said if it works, the basement conversion program could create 5,000 apartments.

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