On April 30, the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Information Service (T&N), an NLIHC state coalition, brought together housing advocates and tenant leaders from over 20 New York City organizations and coalitions to launch the ENFORCE! campaign. The campaign developed out of T&N’s Predatory Equity Working Group, made up of New York City organizers and tenant leaders from multifamily developments that are heavily indebted, or over-leveraged. The group has met for a year and a half to address the problem of over-leveraged buildings, an issue that advocates and tenants also refer to as “predatory equity” (see Memo, 6/25/10).
ENFORCE! seeks regulatory reform from New York State’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). They believe reforms would benefit tenants in over-leveraged buildings, who often become subject to displacement pressure. The campaign aims to change how the agency approves landlord applications for rent increases to finance major capital improvements, as well as the process that DHCR uses to respond to tenant complaints about conditions, harassment, and rent overcharges. The reforms would also change how DHCR investigates and mitigates the illegal deregulation of units that fall under the state’s rent stabilization laws.
Advocates say there is an immediate need to reform regulatory agencies. “Most campaigns around the issue of predatory equity in New York have targeted banks and owners, but there are also issues related to the enforcement of the rent regulation laws that really allow predatory equity to flourish. There are administrative changes that would make a huge difference in the lives of tenants who are fighting to remain their homes in the face of displacement pressures,” said Emily Goldstein, an organizer at T&N.
Advocates and tenant leaders also see a disconnect between grassroots organizing and the discussions among policymakers about how to address predatory equity. In developing the platform for the ENFORCE! campaign, tenant leaders reviewed a wide variety of existing policy proposals, and has drafted a number of new proposals based on the problems they have encountered within the existing administrative system.
T&N has also been working to bridge the gap between tenant leaders and government officials by facilitating the exchange of information, best practices, and new ideas. Before launching the ENFORCE! campaign, the Predatory Equity Working Group developed a “tactic toolkit,” which includes best practices used successfully by tenant associations and coalitions to deal with the day-to-day problems caused by predatory equity. The toolkit also details existing regulations at the city, state, and federal levels that tenants can use to stop the practices many predatory equity landlords use to raise rents and displace tenants. Developing the toolkit highlighted ways DHCR could provide additional oversight and enforcement of the existing rent laws.
The Predatory Equity Working Group believes that in addition to improving conditions for tenants, regulatory reforms will increase New York’s stock of rent regulated units, and curb predatory equity in the future. “We have recognized that real estate speculators have been able to acquire high levels of debt financing in part because they argue to banks and investors that deregulating units is relatively easy to accomplish,” said Goldstein. “Stricter regulations and better enforcement will make it more difficult to make those claims.”
To find out more about the ENFORCE! campaign, contact Emily Goldstein at email@example.com.