Loss of 330,000 Affordable Apartments Seen

Print More

Mayor de Blasio's bid for repeal of vacancy decontrol and reform of 421-a is in trouble, according to some published accounts.

Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office.

Mayor de Blasio's bid for repeal of vacancy decontrol and reform of 421-a is in trouble, according to some published accounts.

In the background of the fight over the renewal of the state’s rent regulations, a new report says New York City lost 330,000 affordable housing units since 2002 that were not subsidized.

Using data from the most recent New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, conducted every three years by the Census Bureau, NYU’s Furman Center analyzed the role of multifamily buildings in providing low-rent housing, and explored whether the city can offer incentives to keep affordable units affordable.

The report found that rising rents threaten the future affordability of this critical source of low-rent housing. “New York City’s real estate market is booming and the supply of rental housing is constrained,” says Jessica Yager, Policy Director at the NYU Furman Center. “The bulk of the city’s low-rent housing stock is in buildings that currently receive no government subsidy, leaving them susceptible to market pressures.”

The report includes four main findings:

1. That the vast majority of rental units are unsubsidized; nearly half (47 percent) of the city’s housing stock is rent stabilized. Despite what many believe, rent regulations aren’t actual subsidies, whereby money is expended.

2. Most of the city’s rental units that are affordable to low-income households are not government subsidized; rather they are either unregulated or rent stabilized. In 2014, there were about 1.8 million unsubsidized rental units. The majority of these apartments were affordable to households earning 80 percent of the Area Medium Income (AMI); 10 percent to those earning 50 percent of the AMI, and another two percent for households earning 30 percent. It’s important to note the AMI is not only based on New York City incomes alone, but includes incomes for the entire metropolitan area.

3. Between 2002 and 2014, the number of unsubsidized units affordable to low-income households declined by over 330,000 units. Rent-stabilized units affordable to low-income households fell by 233,931 units (27 percent). During that same period, the stock of unregulated units affordable to low-income households declined by 96,595 units (23 percent). Between 2011 and 2014, affordable unsubsidized units decreased by approximately 124,000 units.

4. The city might achieve its goal of protecting affordability in the unsubsidized stock by offering a tax benefit to owners of currently affordable units if they agree to forgo some future rent increases.

In other rent regulation renewal news, tenant advocacy group Tenants and Neighbors delivered almost 4,000 petition signatures to Governor Andrew Cuomo Wednesday asking him to keep his word and extend rent protections. The group says it plans to deliver thousands more before the rent-regulation issue is decided.

A Wall Street Journal article, meanwhile, said the future of rent regulations still “faces uncertainty,” and that the long-sought revocation of vacancy decontrol won’t happen.

Vacancy decontrol is the system under which regulated apartments that surpass the monthly $2,500 threshold can become market rate when they’re vacated. Because landlords aren’t required to report when a unit is removed from regulation, the exact number of apartments lost since the mid-1990s isn’t precisely known.

Delsenia Glover, Tenant and Neighbor’s rent regulation lead organizer and the campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power, dismissed the WSJ article. “I don’t know where they get their information from,” she said. “We have been holding rallies and actions everyday.” Glover said until they are definitively told something or until the session ends, it’s impossible to know where anything stands, even adding, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Meanwhile, a coalition supported by the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY) launched what is being considered a last-ditch attempt to shore up support for a plan to tweak the controversial affordable housing developer incentive plan, 421a—which cost the city in excess of one billion dollars just in 2014.

The media campaign, consisting of 30-second ads, advocates for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s amended version of the program which does not include a prevailing wage component—unlike the versions supported by both Governor Cuomo and Assembly Housing Committee chair, Keith Wright.

“Everyone knows we need more AFFORDABLE HOUSING in New York City,” NY State of Politics reports the ad copy says. “But unless we reform state housing laws, we’ll never be able to build it. So tell Albany to stop ignoring the housing crisis, and pass a new 421-a plan – to finally build more apartments New Yorkers can afford.”

Of course, creating affordable housing isn’t the primary concern for REBNY or its members.

Finally, earlier Wednesday NY1’s Albany reporter, Zach Fink tweeted that Cuomo explained why 421-a will likely be renewed without amendment. “The Bill de Blasio plan generated problems. The labor movement is against it.” A previous tweet said, “Mayor put forth a plan. That plan had issues and didn’t have the support to pass.”

City Limits coverage of public housing and New York’s rental affordability crisis is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

Follow City Limits’ other investigations. Get our free, weekly newsletter.

  • Pingback: East Harlem News - May 2015()

  • pioneer woman

    It is striking that the article seems to propose that the default model for affordable housing should become based in subsidized housing. Officials can’t touch the market rate housing, and once rent stabilized/controlled housing is off the rolls, that is the end of that. The NYU report noted that subsidized housing includes public housing. It is possible that Section 8 might be included as well, although the article didn’t mention it. The argument is that one way to increase affordability might be through using tax breaks to encourage landlords to offer subsidized housing and forego rent increases. What a joke. Who will want to do that? Doesn’t Section 8 provide enough incentive? In addition, how many landlords are in favor of Section 8? The numbers of such housing would have been higher in the time period marked by the study, if it were a successful program. But it isn’t, so just let it go already!