This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio came out with his stance on the fight for stronger rent laws in Albany. The mayor vowed to fight for an end to deregulation, an end to vacancy bonuses, and to make major capital improvements and individual apartment increases temporary surcharges. These things will go a long way to preserve the homes of working class tenants like me and my neighbors.
But it’s not enough.
My affordable apartment was rented to my mother over 25 years ago with a “preferential rent.” This loophole allows landlords to register stabilized rents with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) way above the going rate, and then offer them to tenants like me at a lower rate. Landlords like the new owner of my building, Renaissance Realty, then bide their time until the neighborhood gentrifies, and when it does, they snatch away our preferential rates and, effectively, our homes.
Renaissance Realty bought my building last April. Immediately after the purchase the landlord said to me: “Crown Heights is the new Manhattan. I bought this building to make money.” Then, he more than doubled my rent, from about $990 a month to over $2,100.
And I’m not alone. I learned that my 61 neighbors were all facing similar hikes. I went to a Crown Heights Tenant Union meeting and I discovered that all across the city, tenants in rent-stabilized apartments are facing rent hikes that are far higher than the legal limit set by the Rent Guidelines Board every year. And major loopholes in the rent laws are the reason why.
According to a 2013 Consolidated Regulatory Impact Statement from DHCR, close to 25 percent of the registered rents on apartments in New York City are rented out at a preferential rate. There are about 800,000 registered, rent-stabilized apartments in New York. The mayor’s ambitious housing plan aims to preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next 10 years, but there are 200,000 units of affordable housing at risk today thanks to preferential rents.
I’ve watched Crown Heights change before my eyes. I’ve lived in my rent-stabilized apartment for over 25 years. I moved in as a child. We used to call the stretch of Union Street between Schenectady and Rochester Avenues “Dodge City,” a reference to the perils of living in a crime- and drug- infested neighborhood. Now, things are different. Boutique stores, coffee shops, and bars line Franklin Avenue. And my mother’s $990 a month apartment, where I am now raising my own children, is a bargain compared to what is being offered around me.
My building is home to 62 working-class families and most of them have lived in Crown Heights for decades. We built this neighborhood; we shouldn’t have to leave because the neighborhood has changed. The state’s rent stabilization laws are supposed to protect tenants in rent stabilized apartments from sudden and drastic rent hikes, but thanks to years of greedy landlords and corrupt politicians in Albany, the laws are not working.
I know that when tenants fight together, tenants win. Working together with the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board and Brooklyn Legal Services, we are fighting Renaissance Realty in court. But our landlord is fighting back – aggressively. He claims that because he owns our building he has the right to push us out so he can make more money. But we, the tenants, many of us Caribbean immigrants, have been in this neighborhood longer than he has. We are regular people – we are bus drivers, fire fighters, and social workers. We work hard for what we have.
The reforms that the mayor wants, if implemented, will go a long way but they first need to be approved by the state legislature. Repealing deregulation and ending permanent IAIs and MCIs will make it harder for landlords to raise rents and offer preferential rates in the first place.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to stand in the way of real reform in Albany, claiming that there is “too much” happening in the State Legislature to focus on rent regulation. The governor is asking for a straight renewal of the rent laws, ignoring our voices and all the loopholes that continue to push working class New Yorkers like me out of our neighborhoods.
And for me, my 61 neighbors, and the 200,000 tenants like us: we need more. If my rent goes up to what my landlord wants it to be, I don’t know how I will pay it. If I have to leave my home, I don’t know where I will go. That’s why on May 14th, my tenant association is marching with the Alliance for Tenant Power across the Brooklyn Bridge to demand that the governor and his friends in Albany do better. Instead of rewarding Renaissance Realty’s greed, Albany should strengthen the rent laws and fix the preferential rent loophole. New York City’s 2.5 million rent stabilized tenants deserve more!