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Dear Mayor, we want to work with you, but …

The following is an open letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio from Aaron Sirulnick, chairman of the board of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 owners of nearly one million rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs…

As a fourth-generation, family business that has owned and operated multi-family, rent-regulated housing since 1909 — mostly pre-war, 6-story buildings in Queens and Brooklyn — we continue the mission that began with our great-grandfather when he emigrated to the U.S., reinvesting in our properties and improving services and quality of life for our tenants.

Aaron Sirulnick
Aaron Sirulnick

This is what building owners do — especially the mom-and-pop operations in the outer boroughs that provide the bulk of rent-regulated, low- and middle-income housing to poor and working families.

Mayor de Blasio, you should be lauded for taking steps to protect the most economically vulnerable tenants — namely, for expanding the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption programs to assist greater numbers of senior citizens and disabled persons, and for reviving the City’s rent subsidy program to move the homeless from shelters to subsidized rentals.

However, the rental real estate industry is puzzled by the mixed signals coming from City Hall. On one hand, private sector owners of rent-regulated apartments are being asked to help you achieve your unprecedented, comprehensive affordable housing plan – and we are up for this task.

But efforts to preserve existing and create new affordable housing should not be one-sided. The burden is already heavy on those who provide the majority of the City’s affordable housing.

Building owners face steep increases annually in property tax assessments and water and sewer rates — which fund police, fire, education, parks sanitation and other municipal services.
In addition, our economic engine provides jobs in our neighborhoods to laborers, painters, plumbers, carpenters and others who, in turn, support their families and the City’s economy.

Mayor de Blasio, how is the one percent rent increase approved by the Rent Guidelines Board last June going to cover water rate and real estate tax assessment increases?

To be fair, our industry is asking City Hall to consider a 1% cap on property tax assessment and water rate increases.
Short of this, we will be unable to help you, Mayor de Blasio, achieve your affordable housing agenda, and owners will fall far short of maintaining and repairing existing affordable housing stock.

The City knows the high costs associated with maintaining subsidized housing. The backlog of deferred maintenance in NYCHA demonstrates that an aging housing stock requires tremendous infusions of capital for repairs, maintenance and improvements.

The private sector has been making these investments to a far greater degree than government-run housing — with private owners spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to repair, maintain and upgrade boilers, elevators, roofs, facades, windows, plumbing, electric and the overall infrastructure of these predominantly pre-war buildings.

It is far better for the health of the City’s affordable housing to provide subsidies directly to tenants, rather than limit our income while at the same time increasing city-mandated costs and reducing the benefits of programs that help us improve, repair and maintain our buildings.

Mayor de Blasio, we have many realistic proposals that we would like you to consider, for example, the creation of a tenant rent subsidy program specifically for low-income and struggling middle-income families/individuals modeled after the existing senior and disabled rent increase exemption programs.

We also propose the creation of a special rent subsidy fund supported by owners who renovate and rehabilitate their buildings under the City’s J-51 tax incentive program. The re-payment of their J-51 benefits would allow the City to provide direct rental assistance for even more income-eligible tenants. There are so many more initiatives that we would like to discuss with you.

We want the same things that you want for our city and our tenants. It’s time, Mayor de Blasio, to work together if we are going to achieve your goal of preserving existing and creating new affordable housing for those who need it most.

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