WEEK IN REVIEW : ProPublica claws back 50,000 affordable housing units [Corrected]

By LOUIS FLORES

After a multi-part investigation by ProPublica revealed that landlords of 421-a and J-51 buildings were withholding 50,000 apartments from offering regulated rents, City Councilmembers have proposed a new bill that would impose fines on landlords, who subvert apartments from rent regulations.

The proposed bill (Int. No. 1015-2015) would impose fines of $2,000 per month per apartment unit that is not registered to offer regulated rents.  The bill would also propose the creation of an online portal, where all rent-regulated apartments would be listed.

The sponsors of the bill are Councilmembers Benjamin Kallos (D-Roosevelt Island), Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), and Rosie Mendez (D-East Village), and they are taking action only after ProPublica had “quantified the problem.” 

John Fisher, administrator of the online tenant resource Web site TenantNet, told Progress Queens that the City Council didn’t have to wait for the press to quantify the number of apartments that landlords had failed to register under rent regulations.

“What took them so long ?  Why couldn’t they have done this themselves ?” asked Mr. Fisher.

Mr. Fisher further noted that the City Council have staff members on the housing committee and have central staff that could have conducted their own investigation, or the City Council could have held their own hearings to investigate and determine the number of apartments that landlords did not have in compliance with rent regulations.

A request made by Progress Queens to Councilmember Williams, chair of the City Council housing committee, was not answered.

Efforts by the City Council to clawback 50,000 apartments from 421-a and J-51 landlords for registration under rent regulations represents one-fourth of the goal set by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) to build or preserve 200,000 affordable housing apartments. 

Mr. Fisher, the tenant activist, said that Mayor de Blasio was probably wary of claiming the 50,000 apartments that ProPublica had identified as counting toward his stated goal, because, as Mr. Fisher said, “It's not real in the mayor's eyes.”

Tenant and housing activists have long complained that landlords were not in compliance with rent regulations, and if all of the estimated 50,000 affordable housing apartments were clawed back, then these apartments represented units that should have been registered under rent regulations from the day that the apartments were first constructed.

Whether or not the 50,000 affordable housing apartments counted towards Mayor de Blasio’s goal, Mr. Fisher noted that city officials should have been working on overseeing compliance with rent regulations.

“Why didn’t Mayor de Blasio use some of his political capital with HPD or DHCR in regards to landlord compliance ?” asked Mr. Fisher, referring to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the state agency, Homes and Community Renewal.

The press office for City Hall would not answer a request made by Progress Queens for an interview for this report.

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CORRECTION :  This report was correct to reflect that the subject to Pro Publica's reports involved apartments subject to both 421-a and J-51 regulations, not just to only 421-a regulations.