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A City Called Hope: How NYC’s Rent-Stabilized Tenants Could Catch a Permanent Break

A City Called Hope: How NYC’s Rent-Stabilized Tenants Could Catch a Permanent Break

As all working- and middle-class—and even some upper-middle-class—residents of New York City know, rents are, as former mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan put it, too damn high. The average rent within the five boroughs is a whopping $ 3,365, with a vacancy rate of 3.45% in 2014. When Mayor Bill de Blasio, champion of the workingman, was elected, he promised (or desperately hoped) to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units in a decade—about 35,000 more than former Mayor Mike Bloomberg accomplished in 12 years.

But how can de Blasio realize his vision, especially when developers claim they can’t afford to create rentals, what with the cost of land at an all-time high? Meanwhile, thousands of rent-stabilized apartments—apartments where the percentage a landlord can raise the rent is limited—are transferring to market rate. Some 257,000 units have been destabilized or removed from rent control in the past two decades, 35,000 of them since 2011. One reason: Thousands of units built in the 1960s and ’70s, with the promise of 40 years of affordability in exchange for a complicated web of tax breaks, have reached their expiration date.

Yesterday de Blasio unveiled a plan—or at this point a dream—to revamp rent regulations, which expire on June 15. Here’s a roundup of his vision:

  • Currently landlords can up an apartment’s rent to market rate once it passes $ 2,500, even if the tenant has a rent-stabilized lease. De Blasio wants to scrap the ceiling on rents altogether, so those units, while the tenants are still in them, remain affordable. (Some might balk at the notion of $ 2,500 as affordable, but that counts in New York City.)
  • A landlord is currently allowed to raise a unit’s rent up to 20% when a rent-stabilized or long-term tenant moves out. De Blasio wants to cancel that, too.
  • When a landlord increases services, makes improvements, and brings in new stuff (be wary of asking for that new fridge—you’ll pay for it), he or she can permanently raise the rent. The mayor wants those increases spread out over a decade, then leveled out.

These regulations sound fantastic to rent-stabilized tenants and advocates of affordable housing, but there’s a big hurdle: The state legislature has to pass them, and there are many spots in which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s and de Blasio’s political agendas don’t overlap. The legislature itself hasn’t been nearly as concerned with tenants’ rights as New York City politicians.

In the meantime, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, which decides on the percentage landlords can increase rent-stabilized tenants’ leases, is considering a 0% to 2% raise, the lowest in decades. Even if the legislature balks at de Blasio’s ideas, there’s still hope left for the city’s rent-stabilized tenants.

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