New York City’s affordable housing crisis requires innovative solutions immediately and we need more housing as soon as possible. One way to do it is the Local Regulated Housing Restoration Act (LRHRA), which could restore thousands of available apartments back to the rent rolls in months, just in time for the cold weather.

Our organization represents nearly half of the rent-stabilized apartments in New York. Our mission is to ensure that these units are safe and affordable for New Yorkers and have the necessary infrastructure to support 2023 standards of living. As housing providers, our members understand the struggles some renters have, which is why we advocate for a better voucher system and more funding for rental assistance. But more funding for rental assistance is useless without enough apartments available.

This is why we support the LRHRA. It will create tens of thousands of new apartments in existing rent-stabilized buildings without displacing a single existing tenant. The apartments will be certified as lead-free by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The LRHRA does all this without a big tax break or more government funding.

This is how the bill works: Apartments that are sitting vacant with significant renovation needs after a long-term renter moved out will be renovated with permits and licensed contractors, lead and asbestos will be abated, and the apartment will be certified as lead-free. The next tenant will enjoy a newly renovated, code-compliant, lead-free, apartment as a rent level equivalent to similar rent-stabilized unit in the neighborhood and hopefully enjoy a long tenancy.

The process is transparent – the housing provider must provide the new tenant with contractor names, licenses, list of work performed, new appliances installed, before-and-after photos, and the rents of similar stabilized units in the area. The same must also be uploaded to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for oversight review and potential auditing. And the permit requirements for renovations ensure that apartments must be in compliance with updated buildings codes, electrical and plumbing codes, and energy efficiency standards.

For more than a year, we have been posting videos of these apartments on our social media channels and taking members of the media on tours of these apartments. We detail the tens of thousands of dollars in legally-required work in order to meet the latest housing code standards for new renters. It is a good thing that the state and city have dramatically improved standards for energy-efficiency, lead-paint remediation, and overall quality of apartments in the past few years. But these requirements come with high costs, and under the current laws these high standards are expected to be met with a paltry and unrealistic $15,000 renovation budget.

That is not enough to cover pulling permits, nevermind any actual costs for bringing a unit into compliance. For example, it is even harder to achieve lead-free certifications since NYC passed Local Law 66 of 2019, the strongest anti-lead paint law in the country, and can easily cost more than $25,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. In order to achieve a lead-free apartment in a pre-1974 building, existing walls usually must be removed, turning the project into a gut renovation, which requires building permits. So does any electrical rewiring for new appliances and plumbing work for any bathroom or kitchen renovations.

In addition, compliance with the new Local Law 97 of 2019, which requires that buildings in excess of 25,000 square feet reduce emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, will cost building owners thousands more. Even though rent-stabilized buildings are not required to meet emissions limits, they have compliance obligations to retrofit their buildings with energy-efficient lighting, insulation, windows and other items. The LRHRA creates a way forward for these units that ensures property owners are doing the required work to build safe, lead-free and sustainable homes for the future, all while keeping them affordable.

Increasing supply is not the only benefit of the LRHRA. It will also help combat gentrification and displacement in our communities. By preserving existing affordable housing units and keeping them rent-regulated, we can help to stabilize neighborhoods and ensure that New Yorkers can continue to live in the communities they call home. As these units are already vacant, there are no rent increases on any existing tenants, and new rents are not tied to market rents.

Additionally, apartments restored under the LRHRA will be rented at amounts easily accessible to voucher holders looking for housing, giving more families in the shelter system an opportunity to secure a permanent home. In fact, the bill allows the use of Section 8 rent levels in order to give voucher holders an advantage when the voucher could pay more than what other rent-stabilized tenants are paying.

When there is not enough housing, people are forced to live in overcrowded homes, move away, or turn to our homeless shelters. We believe this bill addresses some of the “low-hanging fruit” on housing policy that the state can pass by the end of this legislative session. Thousands of new units could be online by winter, when housing is needed the most for families in shelters.

Let’s be clear: This bill would not be raising rents on any existing tenant. This bill would ensure property owners can build safe and affordable apartments for people to live in for years to come. And it is crafted to incentivize property owners to work with government agencies and rent to voucher holders.

The LRHRA is a critical piece of legislation that will help ensure every New Yorker has access to safe, affordable housing. We urge members of the New York State Legislature to support this important bill and work with us to restore thousands of rent-stabilized apartments to be able to support 2023 standards of living.

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

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