After years of organizing in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, a few things have become all too clear. Tenants are being forced out of their homes and communities in order to make room for higher paying tenants. Landlords skimp on repairs, force tenants into buy-outs, ask tenants to switch neighborhoods to another one of their buildings, and renovate buildings while lowering the quality of life for longer term residents.
The end goal is, of course, landlord profit. In NYC, the rent on a stabilized apartment can be raised about 4 to 7%, depending on the length of the lease, and what the Rent Guideline Board determines for that year. If a tenant moves out, however, rent can legally be raised 20% through vacancy decontrol, plus 1/40th of the amount spent of “rehabilitating” the unit. When the legal rent hits $2,500 and a tenant moves out, that unit is forever out of confines of rent regulation laws and landlords can charge whatever they want!
Essentially, there is lots of money to be made by convincing long term, low paying residents to move out of a neighborhood.
We see this happening all over New York City. In Queens, tenants in 6 buildings in foreclosure with Stabilis Capital are being falsely charged with nonpayments. In Upper Manhattan, tenants are charged fees in addition to their rents (washing machine fees, air conditioning fees, etc.) Eventually, those fees add up and a once-affordable apartment suddenly becomes unaffordable. Even in the Bronx, where we imagine most low income housing is located, areas are becoming unaffordable for current residents. A recent article in Crains NY highlights the problem of gentrification in the Bronx, particularly in Highbridge and along Grand Concourse. Tenant, Lucia Davis, told Crains that “You’d think you could afford to live in the Bronx…But the prices are going up, and a lot of people are moving out.”
And of course in Brooklyn, especially in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, we’ve seen landlords use every tactic under the sun to force out long term residents. What’s the solution? Organize! We need to band together to fight for the following changes:
- Rent Freeze: the RGB is gearing up to determine how much rent stabilized rents should be raised. Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform calling for a rent freeze, and we agree! Rents are too high and too unaffordable for NYC tenants. Until wages are going up, rents should be frozen.
- Displacement Free Zone: About 10 years ago, Fifth Avenue Committee established a displacement free zone within a 100 square blocks of Park Slope. Ben Dulchin, then Director of Organizing, explained:
“We developed a systematic campaign where we marked out a 100 square block center of the neighborhood and put up posters all around saying, ‘This is a displacement free zone. Different set of rules here. If you’re a landlord in this neighborhood and you’re kicking out tenants because you want to triple the rent, we’re going to target you,” says Dulchin. “We’re going to get so much publicity that we hope that we not only win in some cases, but that we proactively keep away those landlords who would evict people and then raise rents, before those landlords even come to the neighborhood.” We need to declare the entire City a displacement-free zone.
- Education of tenant rights: Tenants are given rights by law, but those rights are only recognized as much as tenants themselves enforce them. If a landlord refuses a rent regulated tenant a lease, that tenant should know that it his/ her right to a renewal lease. Without that knowledge and confidence to speak up, there is greater risk of displacement. Through tenant associations, tenant unions, block associations, and workshops, we can educate ourselves and our communities about our rights so we each feel empowered to collectively enforce them!
- Repercussions for landlords who are breaking the law: Time and time again we encounter landlords who are just not following the law. They don’t do repairs. They harass long term residents. They even abandon buildings for months at a time. And what justice do we have? Lawsuits take forever, and are not even successful all of the time. We need a better system to hold landlords accountable and stop them from continuing to profit. For example, a landlord licensing law would prevent known bad actors from continuing to purchase new property. Why should a landlord who has 3 buildings in AEP be allowed to purchase new rent regulated property? That ain’t right!
- Raise the Minimum Wage: If we expect tenants to pay rents that are continuously going up, minimum wage also needs to go up. More and more, low income tenants are paying enormous percentages of their income on rent, and eventually their housing situations, even rent stabilized housing, will be unaffordable to the majority of New Yorkers. We need to raise minimum wage in NYC to reflect actual cost of living. In the short run, workers should be able to earn what they are owed and not forced into doing things like working off the clock (Read about wage theft here.)
- Keep organizing! Form a tenant association, join a community group! If you live in Crown Heights, come out to our next meeting of the Crown Heights Tenant Union on April 17th at 7 pm at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. For more concrete assistance with organizing, check out our resources tab, and feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org