As New York City keeps growing, so does the need for affordable apartments. Almost 40% of the new housing built in New York City from 1990 to 2005 were illegal apartments. Most were basement apartments: two family homes with the basement rented out to a third family. These underground apartments are an important source of affordable housing for many low-income residents and recent immigrants. But some can also be dangerous, and,because of their immigration status, tenants are often afraid to get help when things go wrong.
In 2009, CUP teaching artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín worked with students from College Now at Hostos to investigate why these apartments exist, whether they’re good or bad, and what to do if you live in one. Armed with cameras and questions, the group talked to the Department of Buildings about the city’s building code and the dangers of basement apartments; they chatted with Chhaya about the need for affordable housing; and interviewed the Urban Justice Center about how laws could make it easier to legalize basement apartments.
The group discovered that solving problems between tenants and landlords in basement apartments is really hard. In response, students created a choose-your-own adventure comic book about what happens when something goes wrong in a basement apartment. Students translated the comic into Haitian Creole, Spanish, and Bangla. The group presented their work at a Make the Road NY community meeting in Jackson Heights. The comic book is being distributed by Chhaya CDC to members of the South Asian community.
Get your copy of the comic book here.