NEW YORK—The City Council has declared an emergency in affordable housing in the city. Every three years the Council reviews the availability of housing in the city, and if less than 5 percent of total units are vacant, the city is allowed to declare a housing emergency. This year, the vacancy rate is at 2.88 percent.
Given the tight housing market, the City Council is aiming to preserve as many affordable housing units as possible, Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced on Wednesday. To do that, the Council is putting forth a package of legislation that will encourage Albany to repeal the Urstadt Law, which took away the city's control of affordable housing issues in 1971.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer argued that the local government should be able to address housing issues unique to the city. “We are one state with many different interests,” said Stringer.
City lawmakers say that because of Urstadt, their hands are tied when it comes to New York City-specific issues such as rent pricing and vacancy decontrol.
Vacancy decontrol removes a tenant's guarantee to affordable rent once the landlord is able to raise the price on the unit to above $2,000. Once a unit's rent reaches that amount, it is permanently “decontrolled” and can be leased at market price.
Vacancy decontrol has been a longstanding issue in the city. “We believe that vacancy decontrol led to the loss of 300,000 rent-controlled units,” Quinn said.
The new legislation tackles vacancy decontrol and the issue of home rule. Two emergency provisions extend current rent-control and rent-stabilization programs, which are due to expire April 1, until 2012. Two home rule messages urge Albany to repeal the Urstadt Law and to repeal the vacancy decontrol provision.
Council member Sara Gonzalez, who represents parts of Southwest Brooklyn, is the main sponsor of the legislation. “By extending these rent protections until 2012, we are safeguarding the homes of hard-working families. … Failure to do so would result in our city becoming a city of only the very rich and the very poor,” Gonzalez said.
In Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is working on passing a bill that will require landlords to prove that renovations they made justify the rent increase if they plan to decontrol their apartments. This will make it harder for landlords to falsely claim that renovations made are enough to raise the rent. Currently, landlords are required to submit no documentation of the real cost of repairs made, leaving tenants exposed to a loophole in the law.
Silver's bill would raise the necessary renovation cost and require landlords to submit proof of cost to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which oversees rent-regulated apartments in New York City and several other counties.