As housing affordability protections, such as rent stabilization, face renewal or expiration in June, 2015, the Planning Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) has weighed in with a resolution that urges lawmakers in Albany to preserve and strengthen measures to protect tenants. Although CB1’s role in this matter is advisory, such a resolution can signal legislators that the issue is an urgent priority at the local level.
This measure comes at a time when housing advocates around the City have begun to formulate arguments and strategies for preserving and strengthening the laws that keep up to one million New York apartments within financial reach for their occupants.
The measure passed by the Planning Committee last Monday originated in the Battery Park City Committee in September, where Tom Goodkind (a Battery Park City resident, who serves on both CB1’s Battery Park City Committee and its Planning Committee, and once headed CB1’s Housing Task Force) drafted a series of goals that he hopes will serve as a framework for discussion about preserving affordability in Lower Manhattan. “The good news is that the laws that make protections such as rent stabilization possible are likely to be renewed in some form,” he observed. “But there are lobbyists already campaigning for them to be watered down. So we need to organize and get read to speak up about the revisions we want.” Mr. Goodkind’s proposed resolution was referred by the Battery Park City Committee to the Planning Committee, which took it up at its October 6 meeting.
In addition to preserving rent stabilization in its current form, “we need to prioritize getting rid of the preferential rent exception to stabilization, which became law in 2003,” Mr. Goodkind said. “This allows the owner of a rent-stabilized building to lower the rent for an apartment when market conditions soften, but then raise it back to the rent stabilized maximum when the market rebounds.” He illustrates with a hypothetical case in point: “If the maximum legal rent on my stabilized apartment is $2,000, but the market rate for that unit temporarily dips to $1,000, my landlord can give me a lease for $1,000 per month, but then increase it to $2,000 when the market recovers. That’s a 100 percent jump, which very few tenants can afford. A more equitable approach would be to reset the maximum allowed by rent stabilization to the new, lower baseline, when a landlord offers preferential rent.” This issue has local relevance because many tenants in 70 Battery Place (which is now being sold to a new owner) and Gateway Plaza (Battery Park City’s largest residential complex), have leases that provide such preferential rent.
“Another goal we need to focus on,” Mr. Goodkind said, “is to require building owners to continue offering affordability protections, like rent stabilization, in exchange for continued tax benefits.” This may become a vital concern to thousands of Lower Manhattan residents in the next few years, who live in former office buildings in the Financial District that were converted to apartments in the last decade under a tax break known as 421-g. This program offered significant tax savings to landlords for up to 14 years, during which period the apartments in those buildings were subject to rent stabilization. But in just the next three years, those tax benefits will expire on buildings containing more than 1,200 such apartments, which will also bring rent stabilization to a close in those buildings.
In addition to these objectives, Mr. Goodkind hopes to mitigate the impact on tenants when rental buildings are bought and converted into condominiums, and expand protections for senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
The resolution passed by CB1’s Planning Committee will next go before CB1 as a whole, at its full, monthly meeting on October 28. “If passed,” Mr. Goodkind says, “it will send a message to Albany that we here Downtown need these rent protections not only renewed, but made stronger if we are to continue as a stable community.”