Why We Need a Rent Freeze in New York City

The NYC Rent Guidelines Board ("RGB") remains one of the few mechanisms that the mayor still does have to preserve affordable housing. Mayor de Blasio promised a rent freeze on regulated housing during his campaign, and, recently, the RGB voted for a 0-3% preliminary range for a one-year lease renewal. Zero percent sounds exactly right to us.

Rent regulated apartments are still the largest source of affordable housing for New Yorkers. Increases in stabilized rents impact rent stabilized tenants directly, but they also affect the affordability of all New Yorkers' rents.

Thanks to Pataki-era vacancy decontrol, raising a rent stabilized apartment's rent to $2,500 will automatically make it rent at market rates once it becomes vacant. Citywide, 9,499 apartments left the system in 2012 -- 71 % of these because of vacancies.

As a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, I personally have observed dramatic changes occur in and near my own neighborhood. Gentrifying areas like Bushwick have seen their stock of regulated housing plummet from 41% in 2002 to 32% just nine years later. Raising the rents on regulated apartments this year may turn them into market rate units next year.

But RGB rent increases are just one factor driving rent regulated apartments to the $2,500 threshold. Every time a stabilized apartment becomes vacant, "vacancy allowances" enable its rent to increase by 20%. Landlords are permitted to drive up stabilized rents even further when they make Major Capital Improvements (MCI's) to the building, and when they make Individual Apartment Improvement Increases (IAI's). These charges get added to the base rent -- and then are compounded every time the RGB votes out a rent increase. Frequently, these "improvements" do not improve tenants' quality of life, but are undertaken mainly to help drive up rents more than $2,500. Maintenance and improvements to apartments must be conducted on a regular basis for all tenants, not just used as an incentive to increase rents.

All New Yorkers have the right to decent housing, regardless of income and rent. These RGB decisions have permitted landlords to maintain high profits -- or Net Operating Incomes (NOI). Overall, this is the eighth straight year that landlords have seen their profits grow, while for many New Yorkers their wages remain fixed.

Meanwhile, the law requires the RGB to look at "projected cost of living indices." But in 2008, the recession's worst year, the RGB adopted a 4.5% increase for one year leases, and 8.5 % for two-year leases - and left it up to tenants to decide how to make ends meet. Since then, the slow recovery of the city's economy has not allowed New Yorkers' income to catch up to these rent increases. Today, more than one in three households devotes over 50 percent of its income to rent -- and for our seniors living on fixed incomes -- the situation is even worse. These increases have contributed to the already immense undue financial burden on our city's residents, many of whom are living near the poverty level.

As a life-long resident of New York City and the city's Public Advocate, I find these disproportionate changes unacceptable.

Finally, many of the tenants who are least equipped to pay these increases are the very people who stuck it out in their communities through all the hard times. It would be ironic -- and tragic -- if those who helped hold these neighborhoods together were now to be priced out of their rent stabilized apartments.

New York should be a place where everyone can afford to live. The Rent Guidelines Board can and should take corrective action and vote for a rent freeze for one and two-year leases.