By Harvey Epstein
Maria has lived in her apartment for more than 40 years. However, a few years ago, a new landlord purchased the building. The landlord started a lot of work in the building and filed for Major Capital Improvements (MCIs). The rent has gone up over 30 percent in the last 5 years. Maria is getting ready to retire and now really worries whether she will be able to afford to live in her rent stabilized apartment for the rest of her life. There are thousands of Marias living in our city today unsure what their future holds.
It all starts with a stable home. Opportunities for better employment, our children’s success in school, and the ability to lead healthier lives. But when being able to stay in our homes in New York City is a day-to-day struggle, so is everything else. Affordable housing is the cornerstone of a thriving society, but for far too long it has been under threat in our city.
As we continue to grapple with an unprecedented affordable housing crisis, lawmakers, tenant advocacy organizations and experts all agree there are steps we can take to reverse this alarming trend and ensure living in New York City isn’t just for the wealthy and privileged. Yet how we get there is up for debate. As a public interest attorney, I have worked with thousands of tenants in this predicament and I know one thing: to turn the tide, our top priority must be to protect our most vulnerable New Yorkers from being pushed out by unscrupulous landlords looking to game the system.
First, let’s provide housing subsidies for more families so they can afford to stay in their rent-regulated housing instead of being pushed out by constant rent increases through MCIs. Next, let’s improve public housing by fully funding the capital and operational needs of developments at the New York City Housing Authority. If we’re going to give low-income New Yorkers a fair shot at upward mobility, we need to make sure our public housing stock is safe, up to living standards, and equipped to provide critical services.
We need to protect rent-regulated apartments by repealing vacancy deregulation and reform the way in which landlords can impose exorbitant rent increases based on major capital improvements. We must also end the vacancy bonus, which allows landlords to increase the rent, in some cases up to a whopping 20 percent, whenever a tenant leaves an apartment. With such policies in place, it’s no wonder New York City has become so unaffordable.
However, New Yorkers are not without leverage in this fight. For instance, we can and must require all developers to set aside a percentage of all future developments for affordable housing.
Finally, New York City was built by working-class New Yorkers and like any other city around the country, it does well when working class families do well. That’s why it’s time we create a new working class housing program that allows working class New Yorkers the ability to work and stay here.
Throughout my entire career, I’ve listened to countless stories of the struggles hard-working men and women face to stay in their homes. It’s what inspires me to act. Whether it’s fighting to create legal protections for tenants facing harassment or helping to secure a rent freeze as a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, I do it because I understand that our policies can have a direct and real impact on people’s lives. We need to solve one of our city’s greatest challenges and we need to do it from the bottom up. If nothing else, because it all starts with a stable home.
Harvey Epstein is a Democrat running for State Assembly, 74th District. Harvey is a public interest attorney and community leader. As a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board, Harvey was instrumental in orchestrating the first (and second) rent freeze for one-year leases in its 47-year history.