Council Speaker Launches ‘Task Force’ to Save Rent-Regulated Apartments

Melissa Mark-Viverito with the new "Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force" (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council).

Melissa Mark-Viverito with the new “Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force” (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council). (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced today the formation of a new, 14-member “Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force” consisting of council members whose districts have hemorrhaged rent-regulated apartments—and several of which are targeted for “upzoning” for greater development under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan.

The speaker charged the new unit, which Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams and Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine will co-chair, to review and implement a slew of potential measures to prevent further loss of low-cost housing: partnering with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to help landlords secure financing to make improvements and defray expenses while keeping rents down, connecting tenants with legal resources to increase awareness of renters’ rights and to avoid eviction and urging property owners not to exit the state Mitchell-Lama and federal Section 8 subsidized housing programs as their government contracts expire.

Ms. Mark-Viverito contrasted this “neighborhood-based” comprehensive strategy with the previous “piecemeal” approach of council members individually attempting to aid tenants facing imminent displacement.

“As costs of living in New York City rise dramatically, more and more New Yorkers find it impossible to make ends meet in the neighborhoods they helped build,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said, noting that 92 percent of the city’s housing stock is legally stabilized under one of a number of programs. “We as a city have an opportunity and a responsibility to preserve affordability, and to harness every resource at our disposal to assist affordable housing development.”

How much impact the task force’s work will have is unclear, since housing policy is largely in the hands of the mayor, via his appointments to HPD and to the Rent Control Guidelines Board, and of the State Legislature. Ms. Mark-Viverito noted that many of the council members appointed to the task force represent areas the mayor hopes to rezone in order to encourage developers to build taller—and thus include more new below-market units—and Mr. Levine warned that the plan would likely mean higher rents in existing buildings.

“It’s going to create pressure in those neighborhoods, because it’s going to increase property values. And for buildings that are in programs that are expiring out, it’s just going to make market-rate that much more attractive,” Mr. Levine told the Observer, even as he called upzoning “the best tool we have to get more affordable housing.”

Mr. Williams asserted that preservation of the city’s millions of stabilized units is more important to increasing affordability than new construction, and to accomplishing Mr. de Blasio’s goal of creating and maintaining 200,000 units of low-cost housing.

“I’ve always said, ‘We can’t build our way out of this problem,'” he said, noting the high costs of construction. “We will always lose more units than we try to build.”

No official from the de Blasio administration attended the announcement, though HPD Commissioner Vicki Been did provide a quote for the official press release endorsing the task force’s mission. HPD told the Observer Ms. Been could not attend due to a conflicting commitment to attend a conference.

“HPD has a long history of working with out partners in government and in neighborhoods to preserve affordable housing and ensure that it remains in solid physical and financial condition for the long-term,” she said. “The Council’s preservation task force will augment our efforts by combining the neighborhood awareness of local officials, community organizers, and other area stakeholders with our existing tools and data to develop effective strategies to reach both owners and tenants.”

Not on the task force’s agenda is Mr. Levine’s proposed “right-to-counsel” legislation, which would guarantee tenants an attorney in housing court, and which Ms. Mark-Viverito today would not even guarantee would receive a hearing in the Council—though she insisted she was open to exploring all possibilities.

“We have on the table a lot of options, and we’ll continue to explore them,” she told the Observer.

Updated to include explanation from HPD as to Ms. Been’s absence. 

Council Speaker Launches ‘Task Force’ to Save Rent-Regulated Apartments