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Rent control: A lifeline for workers

Gregory Floyd | 7/2/2015, 12:48 p.m.
One in 3 New Yorkers worry that they could become homeless.
President, Teamsters Local 237

One in 3 New Yorkers worry that they could become homeless. Thus far, the state has given them good reason for concern.

More than 230,000 rent-regulated units have been lost in the past 30 years, often because of landlords forcing tenants out with higher rents. At press time, with rent regulations having expired, all 1 million remaining units are in jeopardy. The expiration of rent regulations should have been an opportunity to pass new legislation that better preserves affordable housing. Sadly, petty politics in Albany are squandering this opportunity and creating a potentially disastrous situation for renters.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create or maintain 200,000 affordable housing units will not help New Yorkers if Albany cannot protect the 1 million apartments covered by rent regulations and the 2 million residents of those units, which account for almost half of all rental units in New York City. Almost 60 percent of tenants in rent-regulated units are already burdened by rent, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Outside of rent-regulated units, there are no other options these New Yorkers can afford.

As president of Teamsters Local 237, I represent more than 24,000 public employees and over 7,000 retirees. The average Local 237 member makes approximately $37,000 a year. The median monthly rent for a studio apartment in Manhattan reached $2,351 in February, or approximately $28,000 a year, far more than they can reasonably be expected to pay. The employees I represent are invaluable to the city. They respond to life-threatening emergencies, provide services for the elderly and disabled, maintain the public housing system and facilitate New York City’s economy in countless other ways. The government owes it to these everyday heroes to provide affordable housing in the city they devote their careers to.

No New Yorker should face homelessness because the state failed to renew a common-sense regulation. No New Yorker should be harassed by multibillion-dollar real-estate corporations because the government will not protect tenants. Working-class New Yorkers need to know not only that they can afford a home, but also that their homes cannot be taken from them in a few years.

Allowing the regulations to expire creates a confusing situation for renters. Landlords, who stand to make fortunes by converting their rent-regulated units, are already using every possible avenue to force low-rent tenants to move out. Some unscrupulous landlords may try to seize this opportunity to intimidate low-rent tenants and wrongfully convince them that their leases are no longer valid while the legislation remains expired. Tenant harassment, already a deeply troubling issue, may become even more prevalent if expired rent regulations are not extended. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s warning to landlords of zero tolerance for tenant harassment will hopefully deter them from exploiting confused renters, but Albany needs to extend the regulations immediately or renters whose leases are set to expire soon will be ruthlessly priced out of their homes.

I applaud the work of Assemblyman Keith Wright, chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee, who has fought for reforms to rent regulations both in the Assembly and in court. Wright has lived most of his life in a rent-regulated apartment complex and was a plaintiff in a successful class-action suit against landlord harassment. He knows well the value these apartments add to the city and to what lengths landlords will go to deregulate them.

I hope that rent regulations will soon be renewed and strengthened. The Legislature should make it harder for apartments to become deregulated and take measures to ensure that tenants qualify for rent-regulated apartments. Legislators need to come to an agreement as soon as possible before the city’s housing crisis becomes a full-fledged catastrophe.