BY JOSEPH STRASBURG
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been talking a good game when it comes to preserving and protecting affordable housing and its inhabitants. But his actions and politics tell a completely different story.
By a margin of 59-0, Democrats and Republicans alike in the New York State Senate recently passed proposed legislation (S.5056-A) that would hold tenants harmless of rent increases if they earn less than $50,000 annually and pay at least 50 percent of their income in rent.
It would serve as a rent increase exemption program, similar to the ones already in place for senior citizens and the disabled. It also would provide immediate relief to the tenants who need it most, and preserve and protect the affordable housing that has been de Blasio’s mantra.
But why not a peep from de Blasio – or the Assembly Democratic leadership, or the so-called tenant advocacy groups, or anyone else who constantly voices their outrage over rent-burdened tenants – pushing for passage of an Assembly version of this legislation?
The answer is simple – because de Blasio, the Assembly Democrats and the tenant advocacy groups are more interested in the politics of affordable housing, than the practical solutions that will fix the problems and provide real relief to the rent-burdened tenants they talk about.
Instead, de Blasio declares war on the city’s largest segment of existing affordable rental housing, supporting recently passed proposed legislation in the Assembly that would put a chokehold on the life-blood of a million rent-stabilized apartments in Queens, as well as the other four boroughs, by taking away the economic incentives that owners need to make capital improvements in their buildings while needlessly expanding protections for tenants who pay thousands of dollars each month for rent.
If the current Assembly bill or the mayor’s even broader proposals are adopted, the casualties would ultimately be the city’s economy, our neighborhoods, de Blasio’s own grandiose housing plan – and the very tenants he claims to be protecting.
The city’s rent-stabilized housing produced $19 billion in economic activity in 2014, including 153,000 jobs in locally based businesses. It also generated nearly $3 billion in City taxes to fund municipal services like police, fire and sanitation.
And, though some people like to broad-stroke the industry, nearly half of affordable housing is owned by landlords with fewer than 10 apartments. These small homeowners provide work to small neighborhood businesses every time they repair, renovate and maintain their buildings.
The mayor’s proposals, echoed by the state Assembly, would stifle all of this economic activity and destroy affordable housing. If he has his way, de Blasio would eliminate rent increases when apartments become vacant, prohibit deregulation of stabilized apartments, and limit the amount that rent can be hiked after apartment and building improvements are made.
But the sources of income that the mayor would eliminate are precisely what keeps existing affordable rent-stabilized housing – which is rapidly aging in this city – alive. The State Legislature had enacted these laws because rent increases provided by the mayor-controlled New York City Rent Guidelines Board were insufficient to meet ever-rising building operating costs.
Long-term, building operating costs have increased by 5 percent to 6 percent per year, while the RGB has historically allowed only a 3 percent increase in rents. To make matters worse, last year de Blasio’s board allowed only a 1 percent rent increase, despite the board acknowledging that landlords’ costs increased by 5.7 percent.
This year, the RGB, at de Blasio’s direction, is poised to set even lower increases, possibly even a rent freeze.
But de Blasio of all people should know it takes revenue to operate rental properties. He himself is a landlord who rents three apartments that are not rent-regulated – which means that de Blasio can raise the rents of his tenants, from whom he already collects thousands of dollars each month, when his operating expenses rise.
The expenses of landlords of rent-stabilized apartments rise every year, in large part due to annual increases in city imposed real estate taxes and water and sewer charges – which are raised by de Blasio. These municipal charges, which make up one-third of building operating costs, are set to increase again in July.
It’s the great de Blasio contradiction: As a mayoral candidate, he campaigned on eliminating the “hidden tax” of water bills, but when he was elected mayor he kept the hidden tax and increased it during his first two years in office. Furthermore, Mayor de Blasio proposes rent freezes and other economic restrictions on landlords of rent-stabilized apartments, while landlord de Blasio can raise his own tenants’ rents to cover his rising expenses.
The mayor continues to hold the baseless position that landlords of rent-stabilized apartments have been over-compensated in the past and are making too much profit. However, the fact is that the majority of landlords are small, struggling, mom-and-pop operations.
Furthermore, it was never the purpose of the rent stabilization law to regulate profits.
After more than 70 years of rent regulation, it’s time to acknowledge that this system is not a cure for what ails the city’s affordable housing stock. Tenants are not burdened because of excessive rents, but because of inadequate incomes.
The only way to address this problem is through rent-subsidy relief targeted to the most needy tenants – like the legislation would provide that passed in the state Senate, 59-0.
Strasburg is president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords of one million rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs.