Trinity House Tenants Fight Rent Increase

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Residents of the Mitchell-Lama building are pushing back against a proposed 40 percent rent hike

Residents of Trinity house, a Mitchell-Lama affordable housing facility located above Trinity School at West 92nd Street, are reeling from shocking news. Tenants were recently told that their rents might soon be increasing by 40 percent over a three-year period. Naturally, residents are upset, and are seeking to fight the unexpected change. The sudden increase is a result of the Trinity School, which owns the residential building, pulled out of negotiations to sell the building to tenants for a limited-equity cooperative, an arrangement that puts a cap on the price of a re-sold apartment.

At a public hearing last week, Trinity residents and local representatives like Marc Landis and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal came out to speak against the astronomical surge in rent. Elected officials have asked Trinity to call off the rent increase and implement permanent affordable housing for residents.

"The goal here is to maintain the building as an affordable building for current and future residents. Forty percent is going to hit people really hard, and it's not justified by the numbers," said Landis. "The best route would be for the landlord to agree to sell at a reasonable price. Trinity has received a great return in their investments having received the tax benefits associated with non-profit housing, so they don't need a lot of revenue."

Residents are not only angry at the steady increase in rent, but they also feel that Trinity Housing Company handled the situation in an unprofessional manner. Trinity cited a need to strengthen their financial stability as a reason for pulling out the deal. But when the school originally submitted the paperwork for the rent increase, the Trinity House Tenants Association found several glaring mathematical errors in their financial calculations, and published their own 18-page analysis. One of the errors included an erroneous operating surplus of $200,000. In addition, Trinity lost approximately $75,000 in revenue from financial errors in uncollected parking garage leases. The Tenants Association then asked Trinity to re-file the claim, but after a second filing, there were still mathematical errors.

"We pointed out all of these errors, and their professional standing is really called into question. The ones who made this document didn't even speak at the meeting. They were probably embarrassed," said James Paul, a Trinity resident of co-chair of the Trinity House Tenants Association. "We knew there had to be rent increase and everything, but this is not reasonable. They never even met with us."

Trinity School did not respond to request for comment before press time.

The tension between residents and Trinity been going on for a few years, however. Although the school and the residents are supposed to share the building, residents claim that they have been mistreated and misinformed over the years. In the 1980s, Trinity allegedly took over a block of apartments in the building for their own use, without alerting residents. A similar incident occurred in 1993, when Trinity converted the fourth floor into classrooms, and did not negotiate with tenants. In addition, in 2007, Trinity informed the building that it was officially taking over the parking garage, leaving only about 40 spots for residents. The final straw came in 2010, when Trinity attempted to raise rents by 85 percent, and the tenants fought back tooth and nail.

It was around this time, said Paul, that the Tenants Association began to get fed up with the treatment, and wanted to buy the apartment building, so that he and his fellow tenants would no longer have to worry about these issues.

"We were tired of fighting with the school and we said so to them, because they were constantly trying to rip us off one way or another," he said. "The school sees the building as just an asset. But that's not right; we are a community."

Between 2011 and early 2013, the negotiations between Trinity and residents seemed to be going well, especially since, according to Paul, Trinity had stated that it wanted to get out of the housing business. After many months of negotiations, the residents arrived at a $16 million number, but in early February, Paul received a call that the deal was off, and that Trinity was no longer interested. As of right now, it's a waiting game. Though Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal does not believe that Trinity will be able to implement the proposed rent increase.

"The fact that HPD didn't apply for a rent increase over the past 15 years is not the tenants' fault," said Rosenthal. "This is not going to happen, because besides the pages of grammatical errors there are still plenty of empty apartments in Trinity and in a city like New York, that's almost criminal."

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