Tenants wave signs while calling for a rent freeze or rollback. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Rent Guidelines Board shot down the possibility of a rent freeze or rollback during the preliminary vote in a lively meeting at Cooper Union’s Great Hall on Tuesday, approving a range of 0.5 to 2.75 percent for one-year leases and 1.5 to 3.75 percent for two-year leases.
Tenant representatives Sheila Garcia and Leah Goodridge had proposed a possible rent rollback for tenants signing one-year leases, with a range of -0.5 to 0 percent, and the possibility of a freeze for residents signing two-year leases, suggesting a range of 0 to 1 percent, but the motion didn’t pass.
Tenant reps for the RGB have proposed rollbacks and freezes in previous years, although last year Garcia said that the data didn’t necessarily merit a rollback, so she and Goodridge had proposed a freeze during the preliminary vote. But this year, she said that a rollback made more sense.
“We saw the impact of the rent freeze (in the data we looked at this year),” Garcia said following the vote, referring to the freeze on one-year leases that the board had approved in 2016, noting that the board bases their analysis on data that is at least one year old and in some cases, even older. “There was an increase in Net Operating Income (in that year for landlords), most tenants are signing two-year leases and there are all these other sources of income.”
At 216 Third Avenue, the FDNY found signs of illegal conversion from a two-family building to a four-family one. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Renting an apartment in New York can be a nightmare, but the Department of Buildings wants to help prospective tenants identify shady situations before making a commitment to a new home.
The Quality of Life unit in the Department of Buildings focuses primarily on the illegal conversion of apartments, which often happens when building owners make changes to an apartment and list the place on AirBnB, and the shoddy workmanship can end up being hazardous to tenants. The main concern with illegal conversions and the reason for the DOB’s crackdown is safety, spokesperson Abigail Kunitz said.
“We want to make sure that people have a safe place to live,” she said. “With illegal gas and electrical work, we want to prevent a situation that causes tragedies like the East Village gas explosion. Especially when housing is scarce, we want to make sure that it’s safe.”
Although the Quality of Life unit doesn’t deal with issues related to illegal gas and electrical work, owners may often overlook fire exits when renovating an apartment and failing to maintain two means of egress, which is considered a serious safety issue and one that the QOL unit would address.
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein during a recent tenant lobbying day in Albany (Photo by Sidney Goldberg)
By Sabina Mollot
With the rent regulations set to expire on June 15, the New York State Assembly has set public hearings on May 2 and 9 to discuss a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the current laws.
Among the legislation includes a bill that would end major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and also require the state housing agency to create a program ensuring property owners maintain a certain level of repair. MCIs are charges tacked on to a tenant’s rent to pay for improvements to the property.
“The major capital improvement rent increase program is a flawed system which has been overly complex for property owners to navigate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, “and has been a great disservice in our efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock.”
Another bill would end individual apartment improvements (IAI). Under the current law, landlords are allowed to raise rent after making IAIs, which can range from cosmetic repairs to redoing various rooms.
Spring has sprung and every four years in New York means one thing: that government decisions made at the city and state levels will be directly impacting the affordability of over a million stabilized apartments.
The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is beginning the process of debating what this year’s increase will be for renters with its first meeting of the year set for this Thursday. The final vote will be made in late June.
The rent regulations that affect the city, made in the state’s capital, are also set to expire on June 15. Though they’re expected to be renewed, lobbying from both the real estate industry and tenants has already begun to hammer out the details.
Both parties will of course have their hands full in terms of advocacy. What this means for tenants, who don’t necessarily have the time to be in two places at once, is that they should prioritize Albany. So states Michael McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).
There have been three evictions so far this year in Gramercy. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Residential evictions are down in New York City from last year, according to a study conducted by apartment listings website RentHop.
Overall there was a 9.6 percent drop throughout the city with evictions tapering off in each borough based on eviction information from January 1 to March 11 in 2018 and January 1 to March 11 in 2019.
The study also found that: both Brooklyn and The Bronx have a much higher eviction rate than Manhattan, but both also had sharp drops from 2018 to 2019. The Bronx went from 1,558 to 1,225 (a 21.4 percent decrease). Brooklyn went from 1,170 to 994 (a 15 percent decrease). Manhattan’s numbers, meanwhile, only decreased slightly from 518 to 486 (6.2 percent). Queens has a higher eviction rate than Manhattan, but it too only decreased slightly from 733 to 716 (2.3 percent). Staten Island easily has the fewest evictions, having gone from 127 to 97. Percentage-wise, this was the sharpest decrease at 23.6 percent.
Adrian McHale, who worked on the study, used numbers from the city’s open data portal, which includes information such as addresses but not the reason given for the eviction.
Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)
By Sabina Mollot
Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.
At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.
Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.
“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”
Tenants at 344 East 28th Street say there’s been no communication from NYCHA about the agency’s plans. (Photo via Google Maps)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents of the New York City Housing Authority development at 344 East 28th Street are demanding transparency after the city agency announced that a new program would be implemented for tenants in the building to privatize ownership.
NYCHA hosted a meeting at Bellevue Hospital last week to give tenants information about the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) Unfunded Units program but tenants said prior to the meeting that they weren’t given any information about the program previously or been allowed to give any input about whether or not they want to join.
The program is part of a push by NYCHA to increase revenue for repairs in developments throughout the city that have long been neglected. The plan involves shifting management of NYCHA complexes to private developers through PACT as well as the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).
A flyer distributed to residents claims that the program will provide funding for necessary repairs, upgrades and renovations, ensure affordability and protect tenant rights.
Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot
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.
Comptroller Scott Stringer, pictured at a town hall earlier this month (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an affordable housing plan at the end of last month targeting middle-income New Yorkers who don’t qualify for affordable housing under the city’s current plan, proposing to fund it by eliminating advantages for all-cash home buyers.
The new tax model proposed in Stringer’s plan would eliminate the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT). When buyers purchase a home in New York City or elsewhere in the state, the Real Property Transfer Tax (RPTT) is imposed and is based on the price paid, but only those who borrow to purchase their home or who refinance to pay for the home pay the MRT, which often means they end up paying twice as much in taxes as all-cash buyers.
Stringer’s plan would eliminate the MRT entirely and would treat all transactions equally, regardless of how a home is purchased. A report from Stringer’s office that the plan is based on predicts that the tax proposed in the plan would save middle-class New Yorkers more than $5,700 on a purchase or refinancing, and would raise up to $400 million annually.
“Paying all cash means that you pay less,” Stringer said. “There’s a penalty you pay for being middle class, but under our plan, all home purchases would be taxed the same. If we keep the rate low, we can make ownership more affordable for the middle class. This is good policy and would raise enough to fully fund our plan.”
That point was hammered home on Monday when about 70 tenant activists and about a dozen members of the State Senate and Assembly held a rally in front of City Hall on the laws that regulate rents for about 2.5 million New Yorkers. On June 15, the rent regulations will expire in Albany, but with many new members-elect of the State Senate having campaigned on the issue of affordable housing, there is a better chance than ever before that they’ll make good on those promises.
State Senator Liz Krueger, who got to witness an embarrassing coup in her chamber a previous time the Democrats won the majority, said this time it will be different.
“This is a statewide cry that’s been building louder and louder,” she said about the demands for more affordable housing. “It was this issue that every single senator downstate ran on and now it’s a statewide issue. Now housing is unaffordable in many areas in the state, not just the city.”
Sheila Garcia of CASA and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
With Democrats having taken the State Senate last month, local elected officials and tenant advocates held a town hall last week, essentially to rally the troops for what will still be a battle to pass tenant-friendly legislation next year.
More than 200 people attended the event hosted by State Senator Brad Hoylman last Thursday in the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Aaron Carr of the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors and Sheila Garcia of Communities for Safe Apartments (CASA) joined Hoylman for the discussion on vacancy decontrol, the LLC loophole and the possibility of strengthening the rent laws now that the State Senate has gone blue.
Hoylman said that in addition to vacancy decontrol, another policy that the State Senate should focus on is the LLC loophole.
Waterside Plaza as seen from Queens (Photo courtesy of Waterside Plaza)
By Sabina Mollot
Waterside residents who are getting close to retirement age — but don’t plan to retire by next year — are asking the city to expand on a deal that’s aimed at giving some kind of rent relief to the complex’s “settling” tenants.
The tentative agreement between landlord Richard Ravitch and the city, which was announced in August, would offer either rent reductions, rent freezes or lower annual increases to 325 settling tenants, depending on their incomes, for 75 years. Settling tenants are individuals who moved into Waterside when it was still in the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program and later entered into a different agreement with the owner to have an annual rent increase that is now 4.25 percent.
The part of the recent deal that’s caused some controversy however, is an additional benefit offered to tenants who retire by the end of 2019. Those tenants will receive a one-time rent reduction to 30 percent of their household income.
As Town & Village previously reported, local elected officials and tenants have asked if the HPD would consider extending the retiree offer by several years, but the agency has already indicated this won’t happen.
The last time the Stuyvesant Town apartment lottery opened was in January, with slots only being made available for applicants in the upper tier of income levels, meaning those who earn a maximum of 165 percent of the area median income. As part of owner Blackstone’s deal with the city in 2015, as apartments have become available in the complex, half become market rate while the other half become available to lottery tenants. Of the lottery apartments, 90 percent of them go to tenants earning up to 165 percent of the AMI, the other 10 percent going to those earning a maximum of 80 percent of the AMI.
However, the lottery is once again reopening, and this time, applicants in both income tiers are eligible to apply for apartments, which are available in a variety of sizes in Stuy Town as well as Peter Cooper Village. The deadline to apply is October 11 and applications can be done online at stuytownlottery.com. To request an application by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Wait List, Peter Stuyvesant Station, P.O. Box 1287, New York, NY, 10009.
In the 10009 zip code, the average asking rent is $3,610.
By Sabina Mollot
New Yorkers looking to grow their families should take note: Two-bedroom apartments located in over half of the zip codes in this city are unaffordable based on what those areas’ current residents earn.
RentHop, an apartment listings website that often conducts studies on neighborhood trends (from dog poop offenses to where there are the most rat sightings) has concluded the lack of affordability based on current asking rents in each zip code.
The study, released in July, notes that affordability is based on whether a household earns 40 times the amount of what a month’s rent costs in their annual incomes, which would mean about 30 percent of the household’s income goes toward rent. Some landlords require tenants to earn this much before leasing to them.
Using this formula, of 52 percent of the zip codes looked into, median rents for two-bedroom apartments were not only unaffordable, but they exceeded half the household income, effectively rent-burdening the occupants.
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.