NYC Tenants Caught by Rising Rents

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The state needs stronger rent regulation

By Senator Brad Hoylman

Let's be frank: Tenants in New York are getting a raw deal. Despite the continuing toll of the recent economic recession on average New Yorkers and clear evidence that landlord profits continue to surge, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) voted on June 20 to approve rent increases of 4 percent for one year lease renewals and 7.75 percent for two year lease renewals for rent stabilized apartments.

These increases are not easy to absorb for most of our city's 1.3 million rent regulated tenants. According to data in the RGB's own "2013 Income and Affordability Study," the median income of rent-controlled households was $28,000 and the median income of households in rent-stabilized units was $37,000. Moreover, housing costs constitute a huge percentage of these tenants' income. Housing is considered "affordable" for a household when it constitutes no more than 30 percent of its total income. The same RGB study found that slightly more than one-third of renter households in the City paid 50 percent or more of their household income for gross rent in 2011, the highest ratio in the history of the study. This means a third of New York's renters were already cutting back in other areas of their lives, like healthcare, food and other necessities, to meet the rent. More than 68 percent of New Yorkers rent their apartments, and we, as a city, are slowly slipping behind on our ability to afford our own homes. Rent increases are simply outpacing New Yorkers' ability to pay them.

With the citywide apartment vacancy rate at a meager 3.12 percent ? under State law a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent constitutes a housing emergency ? those looking for a decent, affordable apartment will find the only place for them to move is out. These increases force New York's middle class further and further from our city's core.

Year after year the RGB's own statistics do not support the landlords' primary argument that increased rents are necessary to meet increased operating costs. An honest assessment of the numbers shows not only that landlords would have been able to afford ? and would have still profited from ? rents remaining constant, but also that most regulated tenants cannot afford any rent increases. Yet once again, the RGB ignored these facts.

Ensuring the existence of viable housing options for all New Yorkers, including those with low and moderate incomes, is a proven way to keep our neighborhoods diverse, dynamic and vibrant. We're not just talking about arcane statistics. We're talking about how many of the city's 1.1 million public school students have a permanent home in which do their homework, how many people with debilitating illnesses and disabilities have a stable home in proximity to their doctors, and how many residents can afford to stay in the communities they helped build.

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