Testimony by Rafaela Zapata, Housing Paralegal, before New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings:
Resolution calling upon the New York State Senate to pass and the Governor to sign A.7526, in relation to strengthening rent regulation.
June 10, 2015
Chair Williams, Council Members, and staff, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify about the Presconsidered Resolution calling upon the New York State Senate to pass, and the Governor to Sign, A. 7526, in relation to strengthening rent regulation. My name is Rafaela Zapata and I am a Housing Paralegal at the New York Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers. NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, veterans, as well as others in need of free legal services.
I am testifying in support of the aforementioned resolution and in support of extending and strengthening New York’s rent regulation laws.
Poverty in New York is rampant and the homeless population, including thousands and thousands of children, is at an all-time high. Approximately, 60,000 New Yorkers, including 25,000 children, currently reside in shelters. Neighborhoods are gentrifying at an unprecedented rate. The Section 8 waitlist is still closed. And the rental amounts for FEPS eligibility are unrealistically low. These many and various pressures on New York City tenants make this an especially crucial moment to maintain affordable rents for rent-stabilized families, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.
To that end, in addition to maintaining affordable housing stock and regulating rents, I would like to emphasize that stabilized housing also provides stability for families, the vast majority of whom are low income. Neighborhoods are also stabilized, in that stabilized tenants have the right to renew their leases every year or every two years, unlike market housing where tenants have little to no protection from being evicted upon the expiration of their lease.
NYLAG’s Housing Project represents tenants in Housing Court and before various agencies in the five boroughs. Currently, most of our cases are in Queens, where we have a satellite office in the Queens Housing Court that works with hundreds of tenants every year. In Queens, we see many cases where non rent-stabilized clients are constantly forced to move from one apartment to another, often annually leaving neighborhoods, friends, family, support services, and medical providers, and forcing children to constantly change schools. We also see a lot of these families unable to find alternate housing once their leases expire and, as such, they are brought to Housing Court where they are sometimes able to gain some time to move, but often, even with additional time, are unable to find alternate housing and end up entering the shelter system. It is clear that there is an inadequate amount of affordable housing available, and as the rent stabilization program ages, and stabilized units are continuously lost, this crisis will worsen.
Therefore, we support the passage of this Resolution and extending, as well as strengthening, the Rent Stabilization laws. We support making any MCI surcharge temporary, reducing the amount of the current vacancy percentage increase, lowering the annual percentage increases in rent controlled apartments to align with stabilized ones, and returning deregulated units back into rent stabilization. However, we would also urge the Council to support eliminating all vacancy decontrol, and think about how to roll back rents that are already too high in conjunction with the State and other matters that affect rents and small landlords’ investments in our affordable housing stock. At the same time, it should be recognized that personal financial gain cannot outweigh the human right to housing.
In conclusion, we support the strengthening of the rent stabilization laws and the resolution before the Council today. We welcome the opportunity to further discuss or comment on these matters in the future.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
 See “Thousands of New Yorkers living in dangerous ‘cluster units’ as homeless population tops 59,000, a record high,” New York Daily News, February 1, 2015, available at http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-homelss-population-tops-59k-record-high-article-1.2099150.