Last night, the city’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), the governing body appointed by Mayor de Blasio to regulate rents for more than 1 million New Yorkers, voted to freeze rent increases for one-year leases in stabilized apartments by a margin of 7-2. The RGB also voted in favor of increasing rents by just two percent for tenants with two-year leases in rent stabilized apartments–the very first decision of its kind in the Board’s forty-six year history. Mayor de Blasio, who had advocated for a rent freeze last year, said in a statement, “this is a historic moment. A rent freeze will have a very tangible and fundamental impact on the lives of New Yorkers.”
And the Mayor isn’t wrong. As you’ve probably experienced, the cost of living in New York city eats up an overwhelming amount of a resident’s income. A report authored by Street Easy last March concluded that New Yorkers spend about 60 percent of their income on rent, which is about double the cost of what’s considered a normal rent-to-income ratio. “As a classic rule of thumb, a rent-to-income ratio of 30 percent or lower is considered ‘affordable,’ meaning that renters spend 30 percent or less of their monthly income on rent–freeing up the majority of their income for other costs of living and savings,” the report states.
As for Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough, it’s no secret that this relationship holds true; Brooklyn rents have exploded in the last decade, and a comptroller’s report found that rents in the borough increased by 77 percent between 2002 and 2014.
Even beyond these rent increases, affordable housing units in Brooklyn are hard to come by, as they are throughout the city. The red-tape that ensures exactly what constitutes “affordable housing” is subject to many variants, and has changed to some degree over the last two decades. Some of those changes, like the stipulation of apartments only qualifying for stabilization if they “had a rent of less than $2,500,” before June 24th 2011, are seemingly arbitrary, and nonetheless bar some people who might need rent control from enjoying its benefits.
In Brooklyn, just like in all other boroughs, there’s a pressing need for more affordable housing, mainly due to changing demographic and economic shifts that have taken place over the last twelve years. The same comptroller’s report found that “in some neighborhoods–among them Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Ft. Greene and Bushwick in Brooklyn, average real rents increased 50 percent or more over” between 2002 and 2014, while affordable housing dwindled citywide. The comptroller’s report also found that during this time “housing affordability—as defined by rent-to-income ratios—decreased for renters in every income group during this period, with the harshest consequences for poor and working class New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 a year.”
It’s these people making less than $40,000/year who are the reason organizations like Metropolitan Council On Housing have labored to make housing equality a reality in a climate of never-ending rent surges. And with last night’s decision, their efforts seem to have finally paid off. Ilana Maier, the MCH’s program director told the New York Times, “Tenants are struggling to pay their bills and even a small increase would force many tenants to leave the city or, for those who can’t even afford to leave the city, to enter the shelter system.”
To reiterate de Blasio’s sentiment: The decision is historic. It shows that the mayor’s office is actually keeping its promises. The decision holds true his administration’s pledge that all New Yorkers should “get a fair shot.” The rent freeze will certainly help low income New Yorkers get more of a fair shot moving forward, for another year, at least.
Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster