Map courtesy of the independent Budget Office shows turnover rates in rent-stabilized apartments across the city.
New report shows where tenants are leaving (Lower Manhattan) and staying put (Upper West Side)
By Madeleine Thompson
New York City’s stock of rent-stabilized apartments fluctuates every year, with a net loss of just over 8,000 in 2015 but a net gain of more than 150 in 2014 and 1,000 in 2013, according to the city’s Rent Guidelines Board. Since the rent-stabilization program began in 1974, however, roughly 150,000 units have been lost to market rates. A new report by the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) studied approximately 925,000 apartments that were rent-stabilized for at least two years between 2010 and 2015 to determine turnover rates by neighborhood within the highly coveted units.
According to the study, the Upper West Side had one of the lowest turnover rates with only nine percent of the area’s 22,173 stabilized units changing tenants from one year to the next. This wasn’t surprising to Sarah Stefanski, the report’s author, because the area has such a large pool of rent-stabilized housing. In contrast, Lower Manhattan had one of the highest rates of turnover with 32 percent of its 5,798 stabilized units changing tenants from year to year. But 84 percent of the stabilized units in Lower Manhattan were built after 1974, while on the Upper West Side that population accounts for only 10 percent of stabilized units. The Chelsea-Clinton and Lincoln Square areas also have high turnover rates paired with large shares of post-1974 stabilized buildings, while Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side’s Carnegie Hill neighborhood are mostly comprised of buildings stabilized when the original law was passed.
“There’s this separate group of apartments that were added into rent stabilization after the law took effect,” said Sarah Stefanski, the author of the IBO report. “These are buildings that generally are getting some sort of property tax benefit, and in exchange for that tax break they have to rent stabilize their apartments.” The algorithm that determines the set rent for newly-stabilized apartments tends to be near market rate, Stefanski explained. So plenty of rent stabilized tenants are paying close to what their non-stabilized neighbors might be paying. “In areas that have a large share of these later apartments we tend to see higher turnover rates,” Stefanski said.
The IBO report can’t pin down the exact reasons tenants leave or stay in their rent-stabilized apartments, but some educated guesses can be made. “High turnover rates may indicate tenant mobility, changing neighborhood characteristics, or landlord efforts to vacate apartments to increase the legal rent of a rent-stabilized unit,” the report states. “In contrast, low turnover rates may indicate tenant stability, or that tenants feel locked into their rent-stabilized apartments because of their below-market rents when they otherwise may have considered moving.”
The low turnover rates on the Upper West Side, West Village and Carnegie Hill could make it seem as though there is less tenant harassment in those areas, but Council Member Helen Rosenthal begs to differ. “Because of all the harassment going on … a good portion of people in family homeless shelters are there because they got evicted from their home,” Rosenthal said. Her office handles plentiful cases of rent-stabilized tenants being harassed by their landlords, but she added that it is hard to make a generalization because “everyone has a different story.” Rosenthal is one of several City Council members behind a package of legislation that would give tenants more agency when fighting their landlord.
It’s possible to see the higher turnover rates in lower-income areas as a sign of gentrification, but Stefanski said she couldn’t speculate as to the accuracy of that assumption. “[Rent-stabilized tenants] enjoy rent protections that market rate tenants don’t, so in some ways they have protections even when a neighborhood is rezoned or is changing,” Stefanski said. But even those protections, she added, can’t always prevent landlords from wanting to knock down a building to construct more expensive units. Or perhaps an avocado bar.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org