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New York board votes to extend rent freeze

The panel that sets the rents for New York City’s more than two million residents on Wednesday signaled that it could freeze rents again for some of them, a move that would be a boon to tenants but a blow to homeowners as both camps scratch amid the coronavirus. pandemic.

The panel, the Rent Guidelines Board, voted 5 to 4 to consider keeping rents on one-year leases as is or letting landlords increase them by up to 2%. This would essentially extend the rent freeze that council approved last summer. Rents for two-year leases could increase by 1 to 3%.

Wednesday’s vote was preliminary. A final board decision, which sets rents for about half of the city’s rental housing stock, will come in June and take effect in October. It would cover 1.2 million regulated units; market-based rentals would not be affected.

Any freeze approved by the board would be the fourth in seven years, a remarkably stagnant period for government-regulated rentals and a sign of concern from authorities that tenants cannot afford to live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States.

“For people in the Bronx and across the city struggling before the pandemic, the fight continues,” said Sheila Garcia, a board member who represents tenants’ interests.

Council deliberations this year come at a particularly difficult time for tenants and landlords, with New York City still beginning to emerge from its worst recession in decades.

Although the local economy appears to be starting to recover as most restrictions imposed by the pandemic continue to be relaxed, many people still depend on unemployment assistance and fall behind on many of their bills. , including rent.

The unemployment rate in New York City in March was 11.2%, about half of what it was last June, but nearly triple the rate in March 2020, before the pandemic hit full force.

All members of the rent board were appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. In addition to Ms. Garcia and a second member who represents tenants, two members represent landlords and five represent the general public.

In many ways, Wednesday’s committee decision was likely to disappoint those who pay rent as well as those who collect it.

Renter groups have spent the past few weeks trying to rally support for lower rents, something the council has never adopted in its 52-year history. Black and Latino residents who have lost jobs in large numbers due to the pandemic and have yet to find new jobs face particular challenges paying their current rents, housing advocates have said.

Ms Garcia and the council’s second tenant representative hoped to remedy this problem by proposing a 3% reduction in rents on one-year leases. The proposal failed by a 7-2 vote.

Relief is already on the horizon for tenants. The state legislature recently approved a $ 2.4 billion rent assistance program to help tenants cover up to a year of past due rent and unpaid utility bills. Help has yet to be distributed, but tenants will be able to start applying for it later this month.

New York State also recently extended an eviction moratorium for residential and commercial tenants until August 31. This initiative also protects small homeowners from foreclosure proceedings if they cannot make their mortgage payments.

On the landlord side, the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential lobbying organization, and other homeowner groups had called for 3-5% increases on one-year leases, which would be the biggest jump since 2014. an increase is needed to pay higher property taxes and to keep buildings in good condition, owners said.

The council noted in a report that the expenses of owners of rent-regulated buildings had increased by 3% over the past year, the cost of items such as insurance, labor and l ‘increasing maintenance.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Scott Walsh, a board member who represents landowners, proposed an increase of 2.75% for one-year leases and 5.75% for two-year leases.

“The impacts on homeowners over the past 15 months have been unprecedented in the past, with high vacancies, record century-long collection losses and higher operating costs,” said Mr. Walsh . His proposal, like the one offered by tenant members, failed by a 7-2 vote.

Landowners criticized the board’s vote on Wednesday, saying government assistance to tenants should come from the states and the federal government, not from a local entity.

“Tenants financially affected by the pandemic have received thousands of dollars in stimulus checks, improved unemployment benefits and other government assistance,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents homeowners with approximately one million rent-regulated units in New York City. He added: “The owners have not received any help.”

However, the state rent relief program provides assistance to landlords, as the subsidies to be provided to tenants will be paid directly to landlords.

Ahead of its vote on Wednesday, the council released its most recent overview of rental costs in the city, for 2019. The report to be released next year will focus on 2020. In 2019, the median monthly rent for regulated apartments in Whole City was $ 1,300, an increase of $ 40 from the previous year. In Manhattan, the figure was $ 1,970.

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