NY lawmakers don’t want to hear the truth about rent control

With state rent regulations set to expire on June 15, lawmakers are grappling with what to do about this enormously complex and controversial area of housing policy. New York City and its surrounding suburbs make up one of the most expensive areas in the world, and no one doubts the housing crisis needs to be tackled.

So one would think lawmakers in Albany would want to collect as much information as possible to ensure the city can create a pathway to housing that is not only affordable but also of high quality.

Unfortunately, a small number of the most vocal housing activists stood in the way of such an essential process.

Last Thursday, lawmakers convened a hearing in the city to gather public testimony and resident feedback on the state of our rental-housing stock. Yet, as anyone who attended or watched the event knows, elected officials were largely unable to obtain any fact-driven analysis and were sometimes also swept up by the rhetoric of the activists.

The public forum devolved into a taxpayer-funded publicity stunt for those purporting to support New York tenants.

That is why my organization, the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents 4,000 members who own or manage a third of the city’s rent-stabilized homes, decided to not to present our prepared testimony.

Our members’ collective voice is essential, since we are mostly small-business owners from all five boroughs who are a core part of the city’s economy. What we would have told hearing participants is that our members are as committed to ensuring access to well-maintained and affordable homes as anyone else. We have the decades-long track record to prove it.

For instance, the city’s Housing and Vacancy Survey makes clear that Gotham’s housing stock has consistently improved since its nadir in the 1970s. In fact, families living on blocks with boarded or broken windows has decreased by 90 percent since the 1970s.

We could have also explained that programs such as preferential rent successfully keeps rents lower than the legal maximum for hundreds of thousands of rent-stabilized homes.

Despite the overheated rhetoric, NYC’s Independent Budget Office just found that 92 percent of all preferential-rent leases stay below the legal maximum a property owner can charge each year. Of those leases, the average rent increase is only 2 percent a year.

No doubt this data does not grab headlines the same way an activist anecdote might, but it is no less important for lawmakers to consider when updating rent regulations.

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CHIP would have also shared its own proposals for tackling the affordability crisis, such as expanding and fully funding the NYC Rent Freeze Program, an important safety net for some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers in rent-stabilized homes, including senior citizens and disabled individuals. While this is a straightforward solution to many issues plaguing the city, it has been sadly overlooked.

But the hearings have been, and will be, just a series of shoutings.

And New York residents should be alarmed by this process. While we have sought to put forth data and solutions, too many activists are content making headlines rather than working collaboratively to actually solve the crisis.

Not only will the quality of our housing stock backslide after decades of progress if elected officials aren’t careful, our economy and tax base will be crippled. One study suggests that newly proposed rent regulations will cost the city $2 billion in property tax revenue alone.

We understand why New Yorkers are anxious about the state of our city. Costs are going up. Public transit limps along. Our mayor prefers to be in Iowa.

But we need our lawmakers to be clear-headed and forward-thinking when approaching a policy area as essential as housing. The city’s residents depend on it.

Jay Martin is the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program.

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