Rent Protections Grow Scarcer and Landlord Harassment Gets More Common for Low-Income Tenants

(URBAN MATTERS) Oksana Mironova and Victor Bach, May 31, 2018 — Since the turn of the century, there has been a tectonic shift in the type of housing low-income New Yorkers live in. While most still live in rent-regulated rentals that number is dropping significantly. At the same time, tenants in both rent-regulated and unregulated housing report increased harassment by their landlords – with the likely goal of driving tenants out so they can raise apartment rents.

Low-income New Yorkers are relying on unregulated rentals in increasing numbers, and losing the rent and tenure protections provided in the regulated and subsidized housing sectors. They are increasingly vulnerable to sudden rent increases, do not have a right to a lease renewal, and are thus more susceptible to displacement, eviction, and homelessness. As competition for scarce housing with reasonable rents intensifies, low-income tenants are more vulnerable to substantial risks across housing sectors.

These trends are described in Tenants on the Edge, a recent report of the Community Service Society (CSS). It was drawn from data collected in The Unheard Third – the annual CSS survey about the lives of New York City residents with yearly household incomes less than 200% of the Federal poverty level. (Here’s a rough yardstick: the Federal poverty threshold for a family of four, for example, is currently just over $24,000 a year, so the survey included four-person families with incomes of slightly more than $48,000.)

First, as to the decline in low-income New Yorkers in rent-regulated housing: The chart below shows the decreasing number of low-income renters in the regulated stock and in government-assisted housing, and a simultaneous growing reliance on unregulated rentals.

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