NLIHC State Coalition Partner, Tenants & Neighbors, and other housing advocates in New York City saw progress in June when the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) voted for the lowest rent increases to rent-regulated housing in the board’s 45-year history. However, because advocates sought to convince the RGB not to increase rents for 2015, they are mounting a campaign for the upcoming year to freeze rents in 2016.
Each year the RGB, a body of nine representatives appointed by the mayor, establishes rent adjustments for units in New York City subject to the state’s Rent Stabilization Law. Approximately 2.5 million of New York City’s 8 million residents live in rent-stabilized units. An additional 32,000 live in “rent-controlled” housing, a legacy program. Together, rent-stabilized and rent-controlled units comprise the city’s rent-regulated housing stock.
Over the past six years under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), the RGB raised rents on one-year leases an average of 3.25% per year and on two-year leases an average of 6.3%. However, in June, the RGB voted for rent increases of 1% for one-year leases and 2.75% for two-year leases. This improvement is attributable to new appointments to the RGB by current Mayor Bill De Blasio (D), pressure from new members of the City Council, and an organizing campaign by the tenant movement. The increases will go into effect on January 1, 2015.
While the June increases are historically low, tenants and organizers, the Mayor, and many other elected officials had called for a freeze on rents. A freeze, they asserted, would help redress the substantial increases of recent years.
In addition to the annual rent adjustments imposed by the RGB, state rent laws allow landlords to increase rents permanently based on four factors:
- The cost of major capital improvements to a building,
- The cost of improvements to individual apartments, up to one fortieth or one sixtieth of the cost of the improvements,
- Vacancy allowances, 20% per year increases in rent when a rent-regulated apartment is vacated, and
- Vacancy bonuses, which are allowed after a long-term tenant moves out of a rent-regulated unit, enabling landlords to raise rents by 0.6% for each year since the unit was last subject to a vacancy bonus.
Such rent increases are especially threatening to affordable rent-stabilized units because of the state’s vacancy decontrol policy. When the monthly rent of a rent-regulated apartment reaches $2,500 and the unit becomes vacant, the apartment is no longer subject to rent regulation and it automatically becomes market-rate. Vacancy decontrol gives owners a greater incentive to increase rents up to the $2,500 threshold.
Advocates say that if the RGB does not vote for a rent freeze for 2016 or the following year, the result will likely threaten approximately 750,000 tenants with displacement in the next few years. As part of their campaign for a rent freeze this year, Tenants & Neighbors developed a social media site on Tumblr profiling rent-burdened tenants calling on the RGB not to impose rent increases. Tenants & Neighbors printed posters featuring these tenants’ photos and quotes, displaying the posters at RGB public hearings in each borough. As advocates push again for a rent freeze for 2016, they continue promoting the Tumblr site.
“Currently, over 30 percent of rent-regulated tenants are paying half or more of their income toward rent,” said Katie Goldstein, Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors. “Landlords have seen their profits rise in this city for eight consecutive years; this year their profits rose 9.6%. They were overcompensated for years with the previous administration, leading to the worst affordability crisis the city has ever seen. Through voting for an increase this year, the RGB continued the trajectory of low and moderate income tenants subsidizing landlords’ profit,” Goldstein said.
In addition to continuing to campaign for a rent freeze, next year advocates face the additional challenge of expiring rent laws. In June 2011, the tenant movement won an extension of the state’s rent regulation and co-op conversion protection laws through June 15, 2015. The extender bill marked the first time in the last two decades that rent laws were not weakened when renewed. Despite that victory for tenant advocates, the 2011 extension did not revise or end vacancy bonuses and other loopholes that allow landlords to substantially increase rents and deregulate units. As the rent laws come up for expiration again in 2015, advocates are pushing not only for extension, but for some major pro-tenant changes to the rent regulation system.
“Rent regulation is the largest source of affordable housing for low income residents in New York City. The city has lost hundreds of thousands of units in the past decades due to vacancy deregulation, which must be repealed so millions of low and moderate income tenants will be able to continue to stay in their homes and communities,” concludes Ms. Goldstein.
For more information, contact Katie Goldstein at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rent Freeze Tumblr site is at http://rentfreeze.tumblr.com/