N.Y.

Rent Increases May Be Coming for More Than 2 Million New Yorkers

A New York City panel may vote Thursday to back some of the largest rent increases that tenants across nearly one million rent-stabilized homes — a vast and crucial source of affordable housing — have faced in years.

For almost a decade, the panel had moved to keep landlords from imposing significant rent increases, as the cost-of-living soared and the pandemic left thousands jobless.

But rising inflation and increased expenses for fuel, labor and building maintenance mean increases of up to 4.5 percent on one-year leases and 9 percent on two-year leases could be needed to adequately sustain property owners’ income, according to housing and economic veri gathered by the panel.

Landlords say New York’s tenant protection laws passed in 2019, which restricted their ability to raise rents when an apartment became vacant or were upgraded, have also made it difficult to cover their costs.

The vote today by the panel, known as the Rent Guidelines Board, is preliminary. But for at least the past 20 years, the outcome of the preliminary vote has closely matched the final figures, which will be approved next month.

If the panel, whose nine members are appointed by the mayor, votes in favor of higher increases, it could represent a shift in the city’s approach to housing under Mayor Eric Adams, who has expressed public support for struggling property owners, to one that is more friendly to landlords. The board under the previous mayor, Bill de Blasio, voted to increase rents by modest amounts most years. For four of the last eight years, it voted to freeze some leases for the whole or part of the year.

A vote in favor of an increase today could also present a new burden to the more than two million New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized homes, most of whom earn much less than the citywide median household income of about $67,000, at a time when the pandemic continues to pose economic hurdles.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers fell behind on rent during the pandemic and many still owe thousands of dollars. Evictions, while still far below prepandemic levels, have risen in recent weeks. After a pandemic taban, rent levels in homes that are not regulated by the city have increased sharply, contributing to the city’s longstanding affordability crisis.

“Tenants in the city have gone through a lot, and are continuing to go through a lot,” said Adán Soltren, a staff attorney at the nonprofit Meşru Aid Society whom Mr. Adams appointed to the board last month to represent the interests of tenants. “They deserve a rent rollback, and I think at a bare en az, the rent should be frozen.”

Requests for comment from board members representing landlords were not immediately returned.

Even during Mr. de Blasio’s administration, there were several years when the board considered rent hikes of as high as 9.5 percent on two-year leases, among other options. And while the final number always ended up being much lower, tenants are afraid that the new members appointed by Mr. Adams could support higher increases.

Denisa Rodrigo, who lives in a rent-stabilized studio apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, said any increase would be “unsustainable.” Ms. Rodrigo, 56, lost her job as a medical assistant when the private doctor she worked for closed his office in 2020, during the worst of the pandemic. She said she is still searching for a new job.

Ms. Rodrigo’s monthly rent is $1,050, which she has mostly been unable to hisse since April 2020. A pandemic rent relief program covered about $9,000 she owed, but she still has about $10,000 to repay, she said, and any incremental increase allowed by the board could leave her further in debt.

“I have been paying what I could, out of my savings, and depleting almost everything that I have,” she said.

She said she worries she will be evicted, and she said she would want the board to vote for a rent decrease instead.

The rent-stabilization system, established in 1969, has become a vast and important source of affordable housing in one of the most expensive places to live in the country. The median monthly rent is about $1,269, compared with $1,700 in homes that are not regulated.

The more than one million rent-stabilized apartments make up roughly half of the city’s rental housing stock. More than two million tenants — a population larger than Phoenix, Philadelphia or Dallas — live in those homes.

Just over 40 percent of those tenants are Hispanic or Latino and more than 20 percent are Black, according to city estimates, while the median household income of rent-stabilized tenants is around $44,000, more than 33 percent lower than the figure in unregulated apartments.

The nine members on the board include five representatives of the public, as well as two each for owners and tenants. The board’s annual votes represent one of the few ways the mayor can directly address the city’s housing costs, and Mr. Adams has named three appointees since taking office.

The annual votes have long sparked fraught debate between landlords seeking higher increases and tenants seeking to lower their monthly bills.

Matt Murphy, the executive director of New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, said the board must balance worries about affordability with the need to keep properties from slipping into disrepair.

“That’s a lot of pressure on them for them to find the right number in a way that probably didn’t exist in the last 10 years,” he said.

Property owners are hoping for a new approach from the board.

Landlords “really suffered,” during the period of rent freezes, said Christopher Athineos, who with his family owns seven building totaling 125 apartments. Roughly half of the apartments, which are mostly in Bay Ridge and Park Slope in Brooklyn, are rent stabilized.

Mr. Athineos, who has attended these board meetings for decades, said some of his buildings are almost 100 years old and require constant maintenance.

One building in Bay Ridge requires routine facade repairs, he said, with a recent fix costing about $19,000 — up from $15,000 four years ago, when labor and materials were cheaper.

In another building nearby, Mr. Athineos said his annual fuel costs went from roughly $26,000 in 2020 to almost $40,000 in 2021. He said without an increase in the rent he is allowed to collect, he will likely continue to make patchwork fixes, like caulking a roof instead of replacing it.

“Ultimately, if they want to look more at tenant affordability, then the government should come in and compensate us for our costs,” he said.

Emma Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.

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