The tenants of the rent stabilized apartments of 1L and 1R on Linden Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn are living in debris and rubble, after granting their landlord and developer, Joel Israel, access to the premises for “repairs” that turned out to be drastic renovations. The tenants’ kitchens and bathrooms were destroyed, beams were exposed, and they can see the building’s basement through what it left of their kitchen floor. Eight months later, these tenants remain living in these conditions. The city has not ordered these tenants to vacate the building for, among other reasons, relatives in the building opened up their doors granting these suffering tenants access to their kitchens and bathrooms. Landlord Israel is facing allegations of eighty-five housing code violations related to the renovations in this apartment building, as well as almost four hundred housing code violations in other buildings he is associated with. These low income tenants, are among the many tenants struggling to hold onto their residences amidst the rent-regulation apartment war in New York City, where more affordable housing is lost to deregulation than are created or preserved. The only employed occupant of apartment 1R told the New York Times, “If we had an alternative, we would have left already.”
Currently, New York City landlords are seeking to capitalize on New York’s booming real estate market and offset rising property taxes and sewage rates by seeking deregulation of apartments. Affordable apartments can be lost to rent deregulation under several legal circumstances, including the expiration of a building’s government subsidies, a conversion to condominium or cooperative, or when the premises becomes vacant and undergoes rent-raising improvements. A great deal of landlords, however, are illegally pressuring tenants to move out such as by demanding documentation of citizenship or making buyout offers. In 2012, over nine thousand apartments were removed from rent regulation, 71% due to vacancy. Rent deregulation is especially on the rise in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Alleviating affordable housing woes of low to moderate income New Yorkers is one Mayor De Blasio’s top priorities. He has ambitiously promised to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units over ten years. De Blasio seeks to do this by allocating one billion dollars of city pension funds for the development of affordable units and raising taxes on vacant lands to incentivize development. He is pushing to legalize some basement and cellar apartments. Most importantly, developers in major residential construction projects will be required to designate some new units for affordable apartments. While 60,000 rent-regulated apartments were lost during Bloomberg’s tenure, De Blasio’s plan is predicted to produce between 25,000 and 50,000 new apartments for low to moderate income tenants.