Why We Can’t Wait

On February 9, the city Department of Housing Preservation
and Development submitted initial findings from the 2017 Housing and Vacancy
Survey to the City Council’s Housing Committee. The survey, commonly known as
the HVS, is conducted every three years by the U.S. Census Bureau for HPD to
determine whether the vacancy rate for rental housing in the city is still
below 5 percent, the emergency level required to continue rent-regulation laws.
The full survey is expected to be released in the summer.

The HVS found that the vacancy rate remains low, at just
3.63 percent, but there are other, disturbing figures:

• The median asking rent for a vacant unit is $1,875 a
month.

• The median income for rent-stabilized tenants is $44,560 a
year, which means that any apartment that rents for more than $1,114 costs more
than 30 percent of their income.

• The median contract rent for rent stabilized apartments is
$1,269. • Half of all rent-stabilized tenants pay at least one-third of their
income in rent. This is up from 33.1 percent in 2014 and 31.7 percent in 2011.
(Low-income families commonly pay as much as 60 to 70 percent.)

• The vacancy rate for rent-stabilized apartments is only
2.06 percent.

• The vacancy rate for apartments renting for under $800,
the level the millions of New Yorkers with annual household incomes below
$32,000 can afford, is only 1.15 percent.

These findings illustrate the depth of New York’s housing
crisis. As rents and rent burdens have risen inexorably, landlord profits have
skyrocketed, passing an astounding 40 percent of every rent dollar, according
to data in the city Rent Guidelines Board’s Income & Expenses report. At
the same time, homelessness remains at record levels despite determined efforts
by Mayor Bill de Blasio and social services commissioner Steve Banks to prevent
homelessness through expanded eviction-prevention programs and attempts to
increase the supply of affordable housing. 

The reason for this chronic and acute crisis is not hard to
see. In 1997 and again in 2003, the state legislature with the compliance of
the governor, after taking large campaign contributions from the real-estate
industry, grafted a number of major loopholes into rent and eviction
protections, precipitating steep rent increases and the complete deregulation
of hundreds of thousands of units. The laws were renewed with only minor
corrections in 2011 and 2015, despite massive grass-roots mobilizations
demanding that the loopholes be closed.

New York City is losing thousands of affordable apartments
every year. But the rent-stabilization laws do not come up for renewal until
2019, so the state legislature is not legally required to consider them this
year. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

“We can’t wait another year with the broken laws in place,”
says Met Council executive director Ava Farkas. “Hundreds of thousands of
tenants across the city are facing crushing rent burdens, and tens of thousands
of families are forced from their homes each year by rents they can’t afford.
The legislature created this crisis and has to fix it now, not in June 2019.”

The continuing loss of New York’s affordable housing stock
is a human tragedy and a policy disaster. If we were to lose another 10,000
apartments as the broken laws remain in effect until June 2019, it would cost
billions of dollars to replace them—funding which does not exist, given the
loss of federal support. We need to act now to preserve this irreplaceable
resource or the housing crisis will only get worse.