Who Lives in Rent-Regulated Housing?

Peyton Chung/flickr.

Peyton Chung/flickr.

While the opponents of rent regulation love to hold up the Faye DunawaysBianca Jaggers and polo-playing multi-millionaires in sprawling, $1,000-a-month Upper East Side getaway nests as proof that the laws benefit a select few who scarcely need the help, the majority of New Yorkers living in rent-stabilized apartments make less than $58,950 a year, according to NYU’s Furman Center, which recently released a profile of rent-stabilized units and tenants in the city.

Even in Manhattan, the median income of residents living in rent-stabilized and rent-controlled units is $49,000. (Citywide, the median income of rent-stabilized tenants is $36,600.) And in fact, while some scofflaws slip through, it’s worth noting that anyone who makes more than $200,000 a year in adjusted gross income for two years in a row is legally disqualified from renting a rent stabilized apartment if the apartment also costs over $2,500 a month.

Also of note: in Manhattan, the typical household living in a market-rate rental unit in 2011 had an income more than double that of the typical rent-stabilized household. The borough also had the most pronounced price difference between market rate and stabilized units, which rented for roughly $1,235 a month less than market-rate units. (In the outerboroughs, the difference only averages $228 per month.)

Rent-stabilized tenants also have slightly smaller household sizes than market-rate tenants (citywide, they average 2.3 residents per household as opposed to the market rate of 2.6), and tend to be both older (17.5 percent of those in rent-stabilized units are 65 or older, as opposed to 7.9 percent of market rate) and more racially diverse (35.3 percent of rent-stabilized tenants are white as opposed to 43 percent market rate).

The report underscores that rent regulation remains far and away the city’s largest system of affordable housing, with 45 percent of all the city’s rental units being regulated, the vast majority rent stabilized rather than rent controlled. (While rent-controlled units continue to play leading roles in the fantasy life of many a New Yorker, they account for only 1.2 percent, or 38,374 units, of the city’s housing stock, compared to one million rent-stabilized units, according to the Furman Center.)

It is not, however, a system without its difficulties, chief among them being that the owners of rent stabilized buildings are reluctant stewards of the affordable housing resource in their possession. Landlords have expressed outrage at the possibility that the Rent Guidelines Board may institute a rent freeze for the first time ever this year—the board is scheduled to vote on rent increases June 23—a move that would not only mean generally lower rents, but also keep a number of apartments below the $2,500 rent stabilization cap that applies to most units. And many are eager for any opportunity to move units out of the program. The report found that the average rent charged for rent stabilized units “increased far faster than what would be permitted based on the allowable lease renewal increases alone. The  average rent charged for stabilized units increased by nearly 50 percent in nominal terms between 2002 and 2011.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that anyone making over $200,000 during two consecutive years was no longer eligible for rent-stabilization, but for this to be the case, the apartment must also be over $2,500 a month. Who Lives in Rent-Regulated Housing?