rent reform

Landlords’ New Gambit: Teaming with Tenant Advocates on Rent Subsidies Push

Buildings along Second Avenue in East Harlem.
Buildings along Second Avenue in East Harlem. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Landlord groups looking to avoid a likely rent-law reforms trouncing are trying a new tactic in Albany: joining progressives in calling for stepped-up aid to tenants.

Building owners are seizing on a bill from Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens) and Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) that would create a new rent supplement for people eligible for public assistance and facing eviction or homelessness.

Landlords would get a government stipend paid directly to them under the Home Stability Support program. They’re also hoping to use their backing for the measure as a bargaining chip with rent laws due to expire June 15 and Democrats firmly in control of the Legislature for the first time in decades.

“We’re all for wanting to be part of the solution and we want to be part of that conversation, but the heated rhetoric right now is that we’re the enemy,” Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, told THE CITY.

CHIP and the Rent Stabilization Association, which together represent somel 29,000 landlords, are teaming on advocating for the rent-supplement proposal, with the backing of the Real Estate Board of New York.

The Home Stability Support program is bringing together the unlikeliest of allies — pairing left-leaning Democrats with conservative Republicans, as well as uniting pro-tenant advocates with landlords.

The strange-bedfellow approach may be necessary to gain a bipartisan, veto-proof bill. It’s still unclear whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will go for the plan that’s expected to cost the state $80 million annually.

A spokesperson for the governor, who routinely vetoes legislation that isn’t baked into the state budget, said the administration is “reviewing” the measure. The spokesperson pointed to the Cuomo administration’s own $20 billion, five-year affordable housing plan.

Shift in Funding Responsibility Eyed

Under state law, the current maximum housing aid for individuals receiving public assistance is $277 a month for an individual and $400 for a family of three in the five boroughs — far below the city’s median rent, about $1,340 a month in 2017. Home Stability Support would expand on the supplements New York City and some counties already supply, and shift funding responsibility solely to state and federal government.

State Senator Liz Krueger.
State Senator Liz Krueger. Photo: New York State Senate

The state would pay the lion’s share of tenants’ rent up to specified limits. Localities could chip in to boost aid to cover the full rent.

Hevesi first proposed Home Stability Support in 2016, securing the support of then-Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who led a coalition of Democrats that aided Republicans in keeping control of the Senate. A hefty price tag stalled the proposal, though last year’s state budget included a $15 million pilot program.

“We worked hard to build a coalition and to craft a policy that was amenable to both sides and accomplish two objectives,” said Hevesi. “First is to help people who are falling into homlessness or currently homeless and also making sure that it’s done in such a way that the landlords who have to take these rent supplements will take them.”

Clock Ticking on Rent Laws

State laws regulating rent hikes and lease terms for roughly a million apartments in New York City and nearby counties expire in a month. The Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly are working on bills that would bolster tenants’ rights and weaken those of landlords.

Cuomo has said he favors three proposals likely to be embraced by the Legislature: eliminating generous rent increases on empty apartments; ending deregulation of higher-rent units; and disallowing sharp rent hikes on tenants who had been granted “preferential” rent below legal limits when they moved in.

All of those measures would reverse past actions by the Legislature to weaken tenant protections.

Housing advocates also want to end landlord charges to tenants for improvements to their apartments and buildings. They’re additionally looking to impose a form of rent control statewide, tying rents to inflation and requiring lease renewals in most instances.

Landlords warn of unintended consequences. “Lawmakers are focused on radical changes that will not add a single unit of affordable housing and will harm the decades of progress we’ve collectively made in improving our housing stock,” said Martin, the CHIP executive director.

Krueger, who recently signed on as the lead sponsor of Housing Stability Support in the Senate, said she will stand firm against concessions on rent laws and sees no bargain to be struck.

“The landlords may not like rent regulations, but there is no trade-off between the Housing Stability Support program,” she said. “The bottom line is the rents are too damn high.”

Hevesi shared the sentiment, telling THE CITY he believes the rent reforms endorsed by the Assembly and his proposal can both prevail.

“We already have a veto proof majority in the Assembly and I’m working on getting a veto proof majority in the Senate,” he said. “So whether the governor likes it or not, we’re going to keep coming to make this the law of New York.”

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