Tenant Advocates Look to Link Rent Laws in NYC to Development Tax Break

Albany lawmakers are expecting a contentious debate over renewing rent protections for more than 1 million New Yorkers, but this year, tenant advocates and others are looking to link the rent laws to a development tax break known as 421-A. Zack Fink filed the following report.

The rent laws in New York City are once again up for renewal in Albany this year, and those who live in rent-stablized apartments are asking state lawmakers to fortify those protections, rather than weaken them.

"In the past 20 years, we've lost hundreds of units from the rent-regulated system through vacancy decontrol," said Delsenia Glover of the Alliance for Tenant Power. "Vacancy decontrol happens when a unit, when an apartment, a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment reaches $2,500 a month, and that tenant who's living there moves out or passes away."

Some tenant advocates are looking to link renewal of the rent laws to the 421-A tax abatement, which has provided incentives for developers to build residential buildings. Some believe 421-A has served its purpose since it was first created in the 1970s, and that there is now a glut of luxury housing in the city.

"In my district alone, neighborhoods that are vacant due to pied-a-terres, second homes owned by global super-rich who don't live in their apartments for much of the year," said state Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan.

In 2008, 421-A was changed so that developers could only get the tax break if their developments followed an 80/20 model, which means 80 percent market rate, 20 percent affordable units.

According to the Real Estate Board of New York, in Senator Hoylman's district in Chelsea, where much of the luxury housing is being built, the 80/20 split has produced more than 3,000 affordable apartments out 16,000 built.

"Well, there's no question it's going to be tweaked," said Steven Spinola of the Real Estate Board of New York. "421-A has been changed numerous times, and there will be some changes this year. But those that say it should be eliminated don't understand the economics of housing."

Rent regulations and 421-A won't likely be tackled until June, when they are both set to expire. That will take place separate and apart from the battles surrounding the New York State budget, which are already well underway. 

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