Debate Over Rent Regulation Moves to Albany
HOST INTRO: Since the city and state started to crack down on landlords who harass tenants in rent stabilized units, advocates for rent regulation feel the momentum has moved in their favor. They’ve decided to go to Albany to try for more tenant-friendly legislation. But researchers disagree how rent regulation should work in the future. Cassandra Basler reports.
At 7 a.m. Tuesday morning… tenant advocates gathered at Union Square to board a bus to Albany.
[Fade up ambi: boarding bus, “ANOTHER DAY IN ALBANY” ]
The group wants state legislators to repeal something called Vacancy Decontrol. It phases out rent-stabilization by allowing landlords to charge market rates after a tenant moves out of a unit. Ten percent of units that were regulated in 1997… aren’t anymore.
[Fade down chatter…]
The protesters want to stop that erosion…But Christopher Mayer (MAY-er) of Columbia Business School says they’re fighting the wrong battle.
MAYER: If you ask me what do I think the public policy ought to be. It really ought to be focused on the most needy residents in the community and not subsidizing people who are on the higher end who I think legitimately feel pressed.
What Mayer means is…too few rent-stabilized apartments are going to low-income New Yorkers who need them the most. He says Vacancy Decontrol adds units to the market rate housing market and drives down rent there.
MAYER: to the extent that you move some units out of stabilized housing into market rate housing you can collect property taxes on those things. So there is a sense that this can actually be something that can allow the city to garner its resources and devote its policies really towards the most needy people.
[Fade up bus ambi]
Jennifer Flynn may be an example of what he’s talking about. She’s a housing advocate who describes herself as middle-class. She’s lived in in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn for 15 years. Flynn says her stabilized apartment is a great place to raise her family… and she’s lucky to have it. But her rent is moving towards 2,500 dollar threshold for Vacancy Decontrol. When it reaches that mark, her landlord can begin charging the market rate …and begin putting more pressure on her.
FLYNN: I’m probably like four years away from like having to make hard decisions about, you know, food and rent.
For now…Flynn and her family of four pay about 1,500 per month for their three-bedroom apartment. By comparison…she says market-rate studios one block away go for more than twice as much. But she says when she looks at her budget after rent and utilities…
FLYNN: I don’t really think that I’m living on a middle class disposable income…but I know obviously I work with people who are incredibly low income and homeless and I have a hell of a lot more money than they do… But I really feel like I’m living. You know. Close to the bone.
Alan Lightfeldt (LITE-felt) says she’s right to feel that way… because rent has become much more of a burden for New Yorkers. He’s a data scientist at Street Easy… a New York City real estate website. He crunched numbers comparing rental rates to median incomes… and found that the city doesn’t fit the typical pattern.
LIGHTFELDT: The classic rule of thumb in measuring housing affordability is that 30 percent threshold. And what we found is in most New York neighborhoods they completely sort of smashed that. And in many cases it’s in excess of 60 percent… which most experts would consider a housing crisis.
And he says this shows how important rent-stabilization is when it comes to keeping units affordable. But he says it’s not a long-term solution to the city’s problem.
LIGHTFELDT: It creates a housing crisis that needs to be addressed either by increasing the housing stock so that there’s just more rent options and that could drive drown rent prices or boosting incomes.
Columbia’s Christopher Mayer agrees that New York City needs more housing units to ease rent inflation… He adds that the long-term problems with rent regulations outweigh the short-term benefits.
But as Brooklyn’s Jennifer Flynn rode the bus to Albany with other housing advocates…she says it comes down to the bottom line: making rent each month.
[Fade up bus ambi]
FLYNN: Around us where it’s not rent stabilized there’s a lot of new condos. It’s crazy. They’re insane. I mean they’re not, they’re luxury housing. I don’t know how there’s a human being who can afford them.
Legislators in Albany are expected to take up rent-stabilization legislation in June.
Cassandra Basler. Columbia Radio News.