All signs are pointing to a rent freeze when the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) convenes this Monday (June 23) to vote on the percentage increase that building owners of 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the five boroughs can charge their tenants on one- and two-year leases.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a rent freeze a campaign promise, and the RGB — including de Blasio’s five newly appointed members — last month took a preliminary vote that called for a zero percent increase on a one-year lease.
Unprecedented in the 45-year history of the rent stabilization system, a rent freeze would hurt tenants, families and neighborhoods throughout Queens County. It would also doom de Blasio’s 10-year housing plan — which calls for the protection and expansion of affordable buildings — even before it gets off the ground.
The RGB has heard testimony from tenants, building owners and other peripherally interested groups at four public hearings — including one at Queens Borough Hall — leading to Monday’s final vote. If RGB members were listening to small building owners — which are the largest providers of quality, affordable housing in outer boroughs like Queens — they would realize that a rent freeze, while politically expedient, is not practical.
How can the RGB even justify a rent freeze when its own 2013 income and expense study shows that the operating costs of building owners of rent-stabilized apartments was 5.7 percent?
A rent freeze would be debilitating to small building owners in neighborhoods throughout Queens. A fair and reasonable rent increase is the sole source of income that enables small building owners in Queens to repair and maintain affordable housing.
They put the rent right back into their buildings — replacing heating systems and roofs, fixing leaks, making electrical repairs, and providing a host of other repairs and maintenance to apartments and their buildings so that families can live in quality, affordable housing.
Queens building owners also keep other small businesses in the borough thriving by hiring local contractors, painters, plumbers, electricians and laborers, and they purchase refrigerators, stoves and other appliances and materials from neighborhood supply facilities. All of these local companies provide jobs to residents of Queens neighborhoods who, in turn, spend money at local grocery stores, bodegas, hair salons, restaurants, movie theaters and retail shops.
Besides the economic impact on Queens neighborhoods, an enormous chunk of the rent goes straight to the city’s coffers for property taxes and water and sewer bills, which helps pay for police, fire, education, sanitation, parks and other city services that are provided to Queens residents.
A vote for a rent freeze would be tantamount to a tenant rent subsidy — and rent subsidies should come from government, not on the backs of small Queens building owners. Who subsidizes Queens building owners to help them pay for constantly rising costs associated with maintaining quality, affordable housing — like heating oil, repairs, general maintenance and government-mandated costs such as property taxes and water and sewer rates?
A rent freeze (or the unrealistic and inadequately low range of a 0 to 3 percent rent hike on a one-year lease and 0.5 to 4.5 percent increase on a two-year lease) would create massive disinvestment in affordable housing. This would lead to disrepair, loss and eventual abandonment of the quality affordable housing stock in Queens and other outer boroughs.
It’s simple arithmetic. If a rent freeze is imposed, small building owners in Queens would be unable to meet city tax obligations, make repairs, maintain quality living conditions for their tenants, and fuel neighborhood economies and provide jobs.
When you look at the big picture, there is much riding on a fair and reasonable rent increase — which is why common sense, and not the politics of a rent freeze, must prevail when the RGB takes its final vote on Monday.
Joseph Strasburg is the president of the Rent Stabilization Association of New York City. RSA represents 25,000 building owners of 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, making it the largest organization of its kind in NYC.