New York City’s affordable-housing stock is drying up. Last year’s ill-conceived Housing Preservation and Tenant Protection Act dealt a huge blow, forcing owners to keep thousands of units vacant for lack of operating income to fix them up.
Now, the Legislature in Albany is poised to pile on more costs and regulatory burdens, on the bizarre theory that financially destroying landlords who offer affordable housing will create more affordable housing . . . somehow.
New state regulations on broker fees may force owners of rent-stabilized units to either lay off brokers who work for them or cut costs elsewhere, which means less investment in the buildings. That is, unless owners prevail in a legal challenge.
If that weren’t bad enough, there is fresh ferment in Albany in favor of universal rent control. Tenant activists are once again trying to exploit the housing-affordability crisis created by decades of anti-development policies that constrain supply. Their goal is to regulate every apartment or rented home in the state.
The aim is to try to pass an amended “good-cause” eviction bill, that, if enacted, would prohibit property owners from raising rents by more than 3 percent, unless inflation exceeds 2 percent in a given year.
The advocates ignore that 3 percent doesn’t keep up with rising costs. The New York City Rent Guidelines Board, in its 2019 Price Index of Operating Costs, estimated that rents should increase 4.75 percent just to keep up with costs in regulated buildings.
The same document noted that taxes increased 7.1 percent, while labor and insurance costs jumped up 6 percent.
The largest driver of rents in New York and across the state are property taxes. And guess who controls those? Politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has failed to fix an unfair property-tax system that forces landlords to pass on costs to tenants.
The supposed justification for universal rent control is that a landlord who raises rents by more than 3 percent is trying to evict the tenant. Think about that for a second. If a property owner raised the rent to $1,031 from $1,000, the automatic assumption is that the landlord is trying to evict the tenant — even though operating costs likely went up at a minimum of $47.50 a month in the past year.
The truth is that the vast majority of small-building owners never want to evict their tenants. The best business model for them is to keep tenants in apartments for as long as possible. If they are raising the rents, it is because they need to offset costs.
A building isn’t a bank. It doesn’t have an unlimited supply of funds to cover costs if tenants don’t pay rents that match expenses. Taxes are still due, utilities and repairs are still needed. We see this in NYCHA’s recent struggles — proof that when a landlord can’t match rents to the costs of running the building, the building stops running.
Government funding or rent money, either way — someone needs to pay. Will housing advocates come out in full force to support a $41 billion bailout for private buildings, like they did for NYCHA?
Universal rent control will also make it harder to build more housing, especially affordable housing, which will lead to fewer homes for New Yorkers. History has shown this to be true over and over again.
A 2018 survey found that more than 80 percent of economists agree that rent regulations have been horrible for New York and San Francisco, affirming the results of many earlier surveys.
Driving down development and reinvestment isn’t going to help revitalize upstate cities, lower rents or reduce homelessness. It definitely won’t create the hundreds of thousands of units of low-income housing that New York City needs to thrive. And it won’t keep the quality of the Big Apple’s housing supply at the best level it has ever been.
What this bill will do is trap rent-burdened tenants in apartments their owners won’t have the money to maintain. It will devastate the housing industry, which provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people. And it will decrease tax revenues, which will make it hard to support the social safety net that vulnerable populations need.
This bill isn’t progressive — it is downright cruel.
Jay Martin is the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program.
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