Vacancy decontrol expanded the city’s tax base, and likely helped revive decaying neighborhoods, but at the cost of driving out longtime residents. Those dislodged had few other options, especially since New York’s population, which fell sharply in the 1970s, began to climb. For every rental unit added to the housing stock between 1993 and 2014, nine people moved into New York, according to a ProPublica analysis of city and census data.The argument
Back in 1994, hardly any tenants outside Manhattan’s toniest neighborhoods were paying $2,000 a month or more. The median rent across the city was under $600. Since then, of the 860,000 apartments that were stabilized, almost 250,000 have become free-market units, diminishing New York City’s largest source of affordable housing. Most of the decrease came from vacancy decontrol.
A third of New York households now pay at least half of their income in rent, and homelessness in the city is at its highest level since the Great Depression, having more than doubled since 1994. Between January 2013 and June 2015, owners of private properties filed more than 450,000 eviction cases citywide, data from the New York City Public Advocate’s Office showed. Less than 10 percent of all identified landlords were responsible for 80 percent of the cases.
Bushwick legislator Martin Malavé Dilan, then a Council Member, now a state Senator, expressed regret. Former Flatbush Council Member Una Clarke, who changed her vote to favor vacancy decontrol (now a huge issue in that district), wouldn't comment.
The pace accelerated as landlords learned how to exploit regulatory gaps to hike rents above the $2,000 threshold. The most important loophole allowed them to pass on a small percentage of apartment renovation costs to tenants. Whenever renters paying less than $2,000 per month moved out, savvy owners claimed expensive renovations, and then charged new tenants whatever the market would bear.
“That is the number one tool for gentrification and the number one tool for fraud,” said Aaron Carr, head of the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative, which recently organized a lawsuit against one of the city’s biggest landlords over the tactic.
The renovation ruse alarmed Speaker Vallone, who in 1997 complained that “decontrol could take place for apartments that became vacant with rents less than $2,000. That was not the intent of the Council.” At his prodding, the Council banned the practice.
But later that year, the legislature struck down the prohibition and allowed landlords to increase rents by 20 percent whenever a stabilized apartment fell vacant, even without renovations. Tenant groups called it the “eviction bonus,” because of the incentive it gave owners to expel residents.
...In 2003, landlords obtained the right to collect rent increases retroactively. This policy allowed owners who had increased rents each year below the maximum amount set by the city to make up the difference whenever a lease came up for renewal. Currently, tenants in nearly one-third of rent-stabilized units pay these below-maximum “preferential rents.” As a result, when their leases expire, their landlords can jack up rents on these apartments by more than is otherwise allowed.