Committee on Housing and Buildings Holds Hearing on Four Bills to Strengthen NYC's Housing Preservation Tool-Kit
Today at City Hall, the City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings heard testimony on a package of four bills designed to strengthen the city's tool-kit for preserving the existing housing where most low- and moderate-income New Yorkers live.
The preservation-focused hearing comes in the midst of negotiations with the de Blasio Administration on the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) proposals. Council Members, advocacy organizations, City officials, and New Yorkers from across the city highlighted the need to strengthen the City's preservation efforts, even as discussion about developing new affordable housing through MIH and ZQA continues.
Most low- and moderate-income New Yorkers live in privately-owned housing. Unfortunately, this housing stock is at great risk. Some landlords harass and seek to displace low-income tenants in order to replace them with higher rents -- either by emptying an entire building for demolition, or more gradually, as a building is turned over unit-by-unit. Some landlords fail to provide adequate living conditions, by refusing to make repairs, or by only making short-term, superficial, fixes that leave dangerous underlying conditions in place. And in some cases, even where owners have received subsidies to provide affordable housing, they fail to live up to their obligations. Recent investigations by Pro Publica have revealed thousands of units that are required to be affordable, but have not been preserved for low-income families.
Four proposed bills were discussed at the hearing:
"Our City is in the midst of an affordability crisis, and too often seniors and working families are forced to endure harassment and live in deplorable conditions simply because some landlords view affordability as an excuse to neglect their responsibilities, or worse, an invitation to force their tenants out," said Council Member and Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee Jumaane D. Williams. "One thing is clear: we cannot build our way out of the housing crisis. I'm proud of the Housing Committee's work to preserve existing affordable housing and ensure all New Yorkers can afford safe, stable housing free from harassment."
"As we are learning from Matthew Desmond's troubling new book Evicted, low-income families are facing an epidemic of harassment, eviction, displacement, and trauma. We've got to do everything we can to preserve NYC's existing affordable housing stock, even as we engage in conversations about how to build more," said Council Member Brad Lander. "Unscrupulous landlords too often seek to force tenants out through harassment, so they can dramatically raise rents. When the City rezones to allow more density, these bad actors seek to empty the building of rent stabilized tenants, so they can demolish the building to build a bigger one. By requiring building owners to obtain a "Certificate of No Harassment" from NYC HPD -- before they obtain DOB approval for demolition or material alterations -- we can make sure no building owner is rewarded for tenant harassment. This requirement has already been used successfully to bolster the preservation of affordable housing in the Special Clinton District in Hell's Kitchen. Now is the time to expand the same protections to tenants in danger of harassment citywide."
"When landlords opt to superficially fix a housing issue without addressing the underlying problem, for example patching a leaky ceiling and not fixing the pipe leak, it causes significant frustration to tenants who see the recurring problems in their apartments. Tenants, who have the most knowledge of problems in their apartments, should have the ability to bring underlying condition claims in court. Our city needs resources to preserve the entire housing stock, and my bill would give tenants an extra tool to protect their homes," said Council Member Ritchie Torres.
"Our City is in desperate need of affordable housing and we cannot allow landlords to hide even a single unit of it from the public," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "We need a full accounting of every affordable unit of housing in the City and we need regular monitoring and strict enforcement. If we're going to give away billions of dollars in incentives and property tax reductions to developers in exchange for building affordable units, we need to know where every single one of those units is and ensure struggling New Yorkers have the tools to find, apply and get affordable housing."
"We have a moral responsibility to protect all New Yorkers, especially our most vulnerable who are too often taken advantage of by unscrupulous landlords," saidPublic Advocate Letitia James. "This critical tenant protection bill will ensure that no bad actor can use practices of intimidation or harassment for financial gain and tenant displacement. All New Yorkers deserve access to safe and decent homes and this bill will help to uphold this basic housing right."
"Tenants in neighborhoods throughout the City are facing increasing pressure from landlords who want to profit off of harassment. The city needs more proactive tools to prevent the displacement of low-income tenants and preserve our existing affordable housing stock. Putting a smart, citywide Certificate of No Harassment Program in place would go a long way towards discouraging harassment and keeping tenants in their homes and communities." said Benjamin Dulchin, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD).
"New York City is losing affordable housing at an alarming rate and landlords' harassment tactics are ever evolving. The City Council needs to respond swiftly and strongly to combat displacement. Passing the four bills being heard today and the 12 bills in the Stand for Tenant Safety legislative package creates a diverse set of tools that tenants can use to fight harassment and stay in their own homes, said Harvey Epstein, Urban Justice Center.
Dulce María Rivera, a Staten Island tenant and Make the Road New York member, said, "I have lived through six New York winters without heat and hot water with my daughter. Even as I've taken my landlord to court, we still don't get enough heat. Landlords need to know there will be real consequences for treating their tenants like this. That's why I'm supporting Intro 152, to stop my landlord and bad landlords across the city from treating tenants like they've treated me."