Affordable housing advocates** were out on the streets Tuesday to garner attention for what they deem as a battle for their housing rights. Banging drums and shaking maracas, the picket line outside the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) chanted "Fight, fight, fight! Housing is our right!"
In the ongoing struggle between renters and landlords in New York, there seems to be a fundamental problem in the system. But where does the problem lie? Is it the agencies responsible for enforcing the rent regulation laws, the landlords, the demands of the tenants, or is it the laws themselves? The DHCR is responsible for the supervision, maintenance and development of affordable low- and moderate-income housing in New York State. The group of troubled tenants and advocates say they are tired of the lack of action and unresponsiveness of the government agency, and handed over a letter of demands.
The group outside the DHCE on Tuesday wants a review of a law that allows landlords to raise rent after basic repairs and renovations, as they say it is being abused. They also take issue with what they describe as increasing harassment from their landlords in an effort to get them out of rent-stabilized apartments, and then increase rent.
"A housing law with too many loopholes and too few protections, a steady decline in the number of affordable housing units available citywide, and now a devastated economy, are about to create the most disastrous environment for New York City tenants in recent memory," said Michelle O’Brien, Campaign Director of the New York is Our Home Coalition**.
Is New York Behind the Times?
Landlords themselves use rental income as a means to earn a living. New York is one of the few cities in the U.S. that uses the rent stabilization law, and as a result a shadow market is created, where rentals in other zones that don’t have the regulations skyrocket, often above market value.
With the shadow market, comes the fear of having to move out of the low cost apartments, where they are often paying as little as three times less the current market rate. Landlords however, are tied into these leases, with only a few loopholes to get out. Thus, a certain amount of corruption among the owners is reputed to occur, and tenant harassment cases are increasing.
One example is using repairs and renovations as a reason to increase rent. In some cases, according to these activists, the landlords aren’t actually doing the work, or what is done does not match the amount the rent is increased. This is something they believe needs more monitoring. Another tactic landlords employ is to refuse to do needed repairs, thereby making living apartments uncomfortable to the point that tenants leave. This is where the DHCR is supposed to step in and enforce the law.
In an analysis of the rent stabilization law, William Tucker of the CATO Institute, author of ‘The Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policies,’ and ‘Zoning, Rent Control, and Affordable Housing’ concludes that cities that do not use rent control policies "Are rewarded with a normal competitive housing market in which housing is available at every price level. Those cities that succumb to the disease of rent control are doomed to never-ending, house-to-house warfare over an ever-diminishing supply of unaffordable housing. Public policy creates its own rewards."
**Make the Road New York is a vocal supporter of low-income tenants’ rights. Members and staff attended Tuesday’s rally.
**Make the Road New York is on the Steering Committee and is an active member of New York is Our Home.