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Pols accused of pitting landlords against tenants in housing hunger games

Calling it the “housing hunger games,” city landlords say the government its pitting tenants against them in a battle to see who is more deserving.

“Renters and owners are trapped in the housing hunger games, begging the government to consider who is worse off and fighting each other to prove who’s struggles are more deserving of redress,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a group that represents 4,000 owners and managers of over 400,000 rent-stabilized New York apartments.

JAY MARTIN

His comments came after the Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents for six months and then raise them 1.5 percent on one-year leases and 2.5 percent on two-year leases. The new rates take effect in October, which means rents won’t rise until March 2022.

The Rent Stabilization Association, the city’s biggest landlord group with members responsible for over one million apartments, called it “incomprehensible,” claiming the board was ignoring its own mandate of politics-free objectivity and data from its own studies.

According to Joe Strasburg, president of the RSA, the board’s own studies found a minimum two percent and as much as a 5.75 percent rent increase on 1- and 2-year rent-stabilized leases was needed to help landlords try to balance their books.  

Over the past seven years, landlords’ property taxes have risen by nearly 50 percent and insurance costs have doubled. Meanwhile rents have increased by just six percent. During COVID, they say they have had to spend more on cleaning and maintenance, many while collecting little to no rents under the statewide eviction moratorium.

JOE STRASBURG

“This is unsustainable,” said Strasburg.  “This board has done the political bidding of [Mayor Bill] de Blasio since day one. We can only hope that the next mayor allows the RGB to operate independently of political pressure and interference, and embraces the city’s largest providers of affordable housing as the solution, not the problem – or else affordable rental housing will collapse under their watch, placing full blame on them for de Blasio’s miserable housing failures.”

With the COVID eviction moratorium extended through the end of August, Jay Martin said the future for many New York landlords has never looked so bleak.

“We understand that many renters struggle to make ends meet. But the government should be providing them with the assistance they need through vouchers, targeted tax breaks, and other subsidy programs,” said the housing boss.

“Instead, the government is failing renters.  It jacks up property taxes, forcing rents to skyrocket, and then puts political pressure on the RGB to implement rent freezes on rent-stabilized units. This forces housing providers to make up the difference, often leading to higher rents on other New Yorkers to help subsidize this broken system. Meanwhile elected officials ignore their role in driving up rents in the first place.

“This system must be changed if we are ever going to address the critical housing needs of our city.”

Both the landlords and tenant groups agree that a statewide Emergency Rent Relief Assistance Program (ERAP) that launched June 1 and is supposed to help both sides is flawed. With a September deadline to distribute the federal money, a backlog of over 112,000 applications could take up to six weeks to get through, according to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance which is running the program.

Robert Desir, of the Civil Law Reform Unit, said the newly approved rent increase will hurt the city’s most vulnerable populations.

“Those in government must advance policies that protect these communities, not measures that will add further economic harm to people who are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Desir.

REBNY president James Whelan conceded the RGB is between a rock and a hard place. “It is clear that the Board had no good options from which to choose,” he said.

However, Whelan argued that the entire process of regulating rents in the city is flawed. “This process has once again demonstrated that rent stabilization in New York City operates under a broken system that places the role of subsidizing housing wholly on the private sector, regardless of individual tenant need.

“We remain committed to working collaboratively with the public sector to develop and implement commonsense solutions that will ensure better outcomes for tenants and owners alike.”

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