By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.
The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.
“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.
Tenants living at Waterside Plaza during the Mitchell-Lama program, known as settling tenants, will be eligible under the agreement for a rent reduction, rent freeze or limited rent increases, which will be determined based on their income.
Waterside left Mitchell-Lama in 2001 and at the time, residents faced annual increases of up to 7.25 percent that led to high rents. Settling tenants are currently subject to a 4.25 percent annual increase, but under the agreement, will be eligible for various benefits based on their income compared to the Area Median Increase, as well as in some cases how much of their income goes to rent.
Those whose incomes are over 165 percent of the AMI will get a 2.25 increase or whatever increase is approved by the Rent Guidelines Board, whichever is higher, but the increases can’t exceed 4.25 percent. Tenants whose incomes are under 165 percent of the AMI and pay under 30 of their household income will be eligible for a rent freeze with zero percent annual increases for the duration of their tenancy. Tenants with incomes under 165 percent of the AMI who pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent are also eligible for a freeze with no annual increases, as well as a rent reduction to 30 percent of their current income.
Handal noted after the vote that the city is going to use the 2019 AMI rather than 2018, which will be beneficial to tenants who are close to the 165 percent cutoff.
“It goes up about four percent a year so that’s important,” she said.
Powers said that the next step includes having the mayor approve the deal, and the city can then certify the lease once the incomes of all qualifying tenants have been certified.
“All the certifications have to be complete before we can sign on the dotted line,” Handal said. “We thought they would be able to sign the lease and then certify all the rents but it makes sense (to certify the rents first) so they can know how much it will cost.”
Under the terms of the renegotiated 99-year lease, the agreement between Waterside Plaza and the city extends the ground lease for the property from 2069 to 2118 in exchange for the creation and preservation of affordable housing, and when the units are vacated by settling tenants, they will be entered into a lottery-based affordable housing program.
Powers was satisfied with the agreement following the Council’s vote to approve it.
“Most affordable housing deals are about providing new housing and this is a rare opportunity to preserve housing that we already have,” he said of the deal.
Handal said that the Waterside Tenants Association is also “thrilled” with the agreement and the work that Powers and other local elected officials did to get the rent protections.
“People can sleep at night now. The older you get, the more fearful you become. We had a very productive working relationship with all parties. (Powers) and HPD really listened to our concerns,” she said. “Waterside Plaza wanted to extend the platform lease and the conversation before was that tenants would be welcome to enter an affordable housing lottery, so we’ve come a long way since then.”