NEW YORK—“Freeze rents now, freeze rents for New Yorkers,” shouted a crowd of tenants supporting Sen. Pedro Espada’s new rent bill on Wednesday on the steps of City Hall.
“Tenants with low and moderate incomes—working poor and working families—historically have been excluded from the safety net provided by rent relief assistance programs,” said Espada in a statement.
Espada’s bill proposes a rent freeze for over 300,000 rent-stabilized apartments applicable to those whose net annual income is below $45,000 and who spend more than one third of their income on rent.
Espada says the funding for the rent freeze would come from the landlord’s pockets by paying back the money they received through J-51 benefits. J-51 benefits are incentives for landlords to rehabilitate their buildings and in turn receive tax abatements or exemptions. The money received would be returned under the rent freeze program.
Despite the frenzy, it was clear not everyone was in support of Sen. Espada’s new proposed bill. Michael McKee, the executive director of Housing Here and Now called the bill a fraud. He said it’s is a pro-landlord bill disguised as pro-tenant.
He noted several problems. McKee said the rent freeze bill would cost the city millions of dollars, money it doesn’t have. He said that as rents increased, landlords of those under the rent freeze program would get tax credits on their real property tax bill, decreasing the amount of tax revenue to the government, costing the city a fortune.
The second problem he noted was in regards to the deregulation of the housing units. Under J-51, during the duration of time residential units receive benefits, it is prohibited for apartments to be deregulated. Under this rent freeze bill, according to McKee, although landlords would be giving J-51 revenues back, they would be free to deregulate housing units, making housing much less affordable.
Lead organizer for Met Council on Housing, Mario Mazzoni also opposes the bill. He said he’s not against a rent freeze; however he called Espada’s bill “financially and politically impossible” and also noted the deregulation problem.
Mazzoni noted that an alternative to keeping housing affordable would be through repealing vacancy decontrol. Under current rent laws, according to Mazzoni, when an apartment is vacated by a tenant, the landlord may deregulate it, affecting the next tenant. Eliminating this loophole would keep rents down at no cost to the city.