By Council Member Keith Powers and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein
As rents continue to climb, the city is working to create, preserve, and secure affordable housing for New Yorkers. Last week, we announced a breakthrough.
In each of our first years in office, we have had the honor of working on a deal that achieves something many dream of but too rarely comes true: a rent reduction for tenants. Over the past several months, we have been involved in negotiations with Waterside Plaza ownership, the Waterside Tenants Association (WTA), led by President Janet Handal, and the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) on an affordable housing preservation deal that does just that.
The proposed deal provides substantial relief for rent-burdened tenants, permanently freezes the rent in dozens of apartments, and preserves affordable housing on a generational scale through 2098. The guaranteed 75 years of rent protections for hundreds of apartments combined with the immediate relief to tenants whose rent has been steadily increasing demonstrate a groundbreaking model for affordable housing in New York City.
A component of this deal that is particularly attractive is its inclusion of middle-class tenants. Freezing the rent of any tenant who makes below the HPD definition of middle income will ensure seniors can remain in their homes and have one less thing to worry about as they retire. Many residents of Waterside Plaza –– especially those living on a fixed income –– are severely rent-burdened, with some paying high percentages of their income toward rent. Those tenants in the middle-income category who are rent-burdened by over 30 percent will be able to have their rents reduced to 30 percent of their income and permanently frozen there. Even higher-earning households will receive a reduction in the automatic rent increases they were set to receive. This will save some tenants tens of thousands of dollars in the first few years of the deal alone.
None of this would be possible without Dan Garodnick’s leadership toward the end of his term as Council Member, Janet Handal’s tenacious advocacy on behalf of tenants, Richard Ravitch’s generosity in allowing this to be feasible as the property’s owner, and HPD’s willingness to go above and beyond to fulfill their mission of preserving affordable housing for New Yorkers. While the Waterside agreement must still go through the city’s mandated land use review process, we are confident that it will come to fruition early next year.
Our city and state governments should work as hard as they can to replicate the terms of this deal, regarding both longevity and assistance to middle class families. This is a rare opportunity, but we hope it will provide a model for future affordable housing programs to come. It shouldn’t take unique circumstances to offer housing to New Yorkers at a fair price. We should be able to more easily provide solutions.
In the words of Mark Twain, they’re not making any more land, which underscores why deals like this are critical to affordable housing in the City. Manhattan’s not getting any bigger, but with creative solutions, we can make sure it does not feel smaller.
Keith Powers is Council Member for Manhattan’s District Four, covering Carnegie Hill, Central Park South, Koreatown, Midtown East, Murray Hill, Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, Sutton Place, Times Square, Tudor City, Turtle Bay, Upper East Side, and Waterside Plaza.
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein represents the East Side of Manhattan, including the neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, East Village, Alphabet City, Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill, Tudor City and the United Nations.