Does Mayor Michael Blooberg Want New York Without New Yorkers?

New York Without New Yorkers?

In July of this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to slash $64 million dollars from the “Advantage Program’s”, $140,000 budget - a rent subsidy used to keep as many as 15,000 formerly homeless men and women from returning to the streets. As of now, there are about 43,000 homeless walking the streets, the most since the great Depression, and this including 17,000 children according to Coalition for the Homeless. Adding to this problem is that landlords and building owners around the city are known to be warehousing rent regulated units until they can be added to the market rate stock, in part due to vacancy decontrol. Neighborhoods such as East Harlem are being hit particularly hard.

While the vacancy in Manhattan around 1 to 2 percent, the number of empty and unoccupied units is much higher. Many apartments are simply being warehoused allowing the real estate industry to argue that renters are willing to pay the current going rate for market rate rentals . This seems to have been the case as in late last year. In a piece by Joseph Berger of the New York Times, on October of 2011, 96th street and Third Avenue was a hot spot for empty apartments remaining vacant. The buildings, owned by the real estate firm, Ross & Ross sit above an optical treatment center and a bodega on what has been described as a bustling street. According to at least one local resident, the units have been empty for more than a decade. According to one report, released in 2006, conducted by Picture the Homeless, 24,000 units in the area sit vacant, in order to take advantage vacancy laws, which allows landlords to take units out of rent regulation once they can hike the rent past $2,500a month, as long as they are empty at the time of the increase. Also according to the study, 94% of the units were privately owned at the time of the New York Times article. As mentioned in the New York Times article, the warehousing of these units is creating a back log of families looking to be placed in apartments through NYCHA. There have been demands for the city to step in but the landlord’s financial incentives and a slow moving system of city policies have added to the paralysis of any progress. The New York City Economic Development Corporation, formed in 1991, is the body supposed to govern the sale of abandoned properties to private developers receives private funds which means it is under no obligation to release the names of the new property owners.

Then there is the continuing problem of illegal hotels which continues to be a favorite practice by building owners of rent regulated apartments, to clear out their units while at the same time, earn top dollar renting out space to tourists, often creating safety concerns, along with the explosions of harassment by management towards the tenants. In the summer of 2010, tenants rights groups celebrated when the illegal hotels bill was signed in Albany, believing it would take a bite out of the problem. But according to City Limits, magazine 1897 citations have been written by the Mayor’s Office Of Special Enforcement, more than 97% coming after May 2011 when the law went into effect. Despite the law and the ensuing crackdown, the problem, which continues to allow building owners to bleed affordable housing out of the rent regulated market, only seems to be picking up speed. Susan Stetzer, the district board manager for community board 3, in the East Village and Chinatown, was quoted as saying that, "The new law seems to have no effect." Part of the problem is that OSE continues to be underfunded with only a few inspectors for all five boroughs. The other problem is that the fines handed down for these violations is a flat rate of about $800 dollars, no matter how many units are being used or for how long. There is a bill currently moving through the City Council which would fix the latter situation but the over burdened staff of OSE will continue to hamper efforts at enforcement. This is a situation that the Mayor has yet to address. Finally businesses like Airbnb continue to act as enablers to landlords looking to break the law. Their CEO Brian Chesky admits that building owners who use the site can bring in $20,000 worth of tourist traffic – to the chagrin of anyone living nearby.

And finally, the Rent Guidelines Board approved the latest round of rent hike, this past June. For one year leases, renters can expect an increase of 3.75% while two year leases can expect an increase of 7.5%. All told, rent regulated tenants remain in the crosshairs of the real estate industry, which seems intent on making New York a museum city with buildings for display and transient use only and the working class priced out of town altogether.

Heart Break Hotels


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