Rochester, New York State’s third-largest city, is about to take the first step toward enacting rent stabilization. In late November, Mayor Lovely Warren submitted legislation to the City Council to commission a study of the vacancy rate in buildings eligible for regulation, after all nine Councilmembers sent her a letter endorsing the idea.
The study is required before the city can opt into the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. In order to enact rent stabilization, as upstate governments are allowed to do under the revised state rent laws the state Legislature passed in June, it has to find that a “housing emergency” exists, a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent in buildings built before 1974 and containing at least six units.
Rochester’s City Wide Tenant Union estimates that about 25,000 units in the city of 210,000 would qualify for regulation, organizer Allie Dentinger told the Rochester City Newspaper. The group says two out of five tenants in the city spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and one out of five spend more than half.
“We’re looking at a significant number of people that would be impacted by this,” Dentinger said.
Renters in the city have been squeezed by both gentrification and old-style slumlords. In Jody Francis’ building, the new owner who bought it last year began pushing tenants out so he could renovate their apartments. The remaining tenants were able to work out a deal that enabled some of them to stay, but at higher rents. Rent-stabilization laws “definitely would have helped in our situation with the rent increase,” Francis told the City Newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Hudson Valley city of Kingston began its vacancy survey in November. City communications director Summer Smith told the Kingston Daily Freeman that the study, done by the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research for $32,000, is expected to be completed “at the end of December.”
Mayor Steve Noble has not endorsed enacting rent stabilization if the survey shows Kingston has a housing shortage, but said that, “an informed discussion requires accurate data.”