Low Income New Yorkers Must Make Terrible Choices - Paying The Rent Or . . .
MONDAY, JUNE 30, 2014

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice's Law Reform Unit, appeared on Marketplace on WNYC-NPR to discuss the lack of affordable housing for low income New Yorkers.

"We see all the time people having to make really terrible choices between—do they feed their kids? Do they buy medicine for their kids? Do they buy clothes, or do they pay the rent?" said Ms Goldiner. "The rents just keep on creeping higher and higher."

Goldiner said that "sometimes we see landlords cut off services, take people to housing court even if they don’t owe any money, telling people that they don’t have the right immigration status and so they have to leave or they’ll call INS. You know, all kinds of bullying."




Marketplace
WNYC-FM 93.9 (NPR) New York
June 30, 2014

Host: There are, plus or minus, a million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City. Those rents don’t stabilize themselves, of course. That task falls to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, a politically appointed group that has just raised rents by the lowest amount—that is the smallest increase ever. The reasonably new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has promised to build two-hundred thousand affordable housing units in the next ten years in that city, both of which reflect growing strain on renters—not just in New York—but across the country, especially in the big city and especially among the poor. Marketplace’s Sabri Ben Achour has that story.

Sabri Ben Achour, WYNC Reporter: February was in some ways a very good month for Garado Odiji. He’d been in a drawn out custody battle that had been messy but had finally ended and, most importantly, he was reunited with his kids. But there were just a few logistics to work out.

Garado Odiji: Five kids, one-bedroom apartment. I put the girls in the bedroom and let the boys sleep in the living room then I sleep on the floor. So everybody’s coming down to sleep with daddy on the floor. Nobody wanna sleep on the bed.

Sabri Ben Achour: Since his kids arrived, Odiji has been looking for a two or three-bedroom place in his area of Brooklyn.

Garado Odiji: They usually ask for about, uh, two-thousand dollars. You know, I cannot afford that right now.

Sabri Ben Achour: And, actually, he can’t afford his current apartment right now either. The rent is a little over a thousand dollars a month, half of his annual income. He quit one of his jobs and cut his hours at the other so he could be with his kids; take them to school, therapy, the doctors. And now he’s four months behind on rent. He’s in housing court on the verge of getting evicted; his kids are going to live in his church for a while.

Garado Odiji: My eleven year old just told me that he—why are we keeping on moving him? (He cries) He say, ‘We tired.’ You know, I’m doing my best to take care of my children.

Sabri Ben Achour: People like Odiji, people on the edge, show up at Judith Goldiner’s office all the time. She’s an attorney with The Legal Aid Fund, and she says there have been more and more of such people over the past five years.

Judith Goldiner, The Legal Aid Fund: We see all the time people having to make really terrible choices between—do they feed their kids? Do they buy medicine for their kids? Do they buy clothes, or do they pay the rent? The rents just keep on creeping higher and higher.

Sabri Ben Achour: And in some cases, landlords have tried to push lower income renters out.

Judith Goldiner: Sometimes we see landlords cut off services, take people to housing court even if they don’t owe any money, telling people that they don’t have the right immigration status and so they have to leave or they’ll call INS. You know, all kinds of bullying.

Sabri Ben Achour: It is not simply that rents are creeping higher and higher, it is that renter incomes have fallen since the recession.

Max Weselcouch, Director, the Moelis Institute for Affordable Housing Policy at NYU: Renter households are just being squeezed more.

Sabri Ben Achour: Max Weselcouch directs the Moelis Institute for Affordable Housing Policy at NYU. Last year was the first year more than half of all households in New York City were rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than a third of their income in rent. The numbers are worse in L.A. and Philadelphia.

Max Weselcouch: The largest increases in the share of households that are rent burdened actually happen at the moderate and middle-income level.

Sabri Ben Achour: The forces behind all of this are, it turns out, fairly simple; supply and demand.

Max Weselcouch: There’s been very little new production of housing. And even though housing construction has begun to rebound in twenty-twelve and twenty-thirteen, it’s still at lower levels that we’ve seen since at least nineteen-sixty.

Sabri Ben Achour: During the recession people made less money, people built fewer places to live. But after the recession, people are still here. In fact, there are more of them and they still need places to live. Many are moving to big cities—two-hundred thousand to New York City alone in the last three years—adding even more pressure.

Max Weselcouch: This is just a kind of classic economic problem.

Sabri Ben Achour: It’s not like cities haven’t tried to address the problem. Many cities offer developers incentives to build temporarily affordable units, though many of these agreements are expiring now. Then there’s rent stabilization for thirty-four percent of rental units in New York, a politically appointed board determines how much rents can rise each year. Several cities do this; many landlords do not like it.

Frank Ricci, Director, the Rent Stabilization Association: To try and micro-manage the increases each year is ludicrous.

Sabri Ben Achour: Frank Ricci is with the Rent Stabilization Association. He represents residential building owners who, he says, suffer when they can’t raise rents by as much as they’d like.

Frank Ricci: When you own a building, there are big expenses that pop up from time to time—could be the roof, could be the boiler. You don’t know what it is but, when big things break, they cost a lot of money. There’s numerous distortions within the whole system of rent regulation.

Sabri Ben Achour: His opponents point out that landlord incomes have been rising faster than operating expenses for nearly a decade. Whether the most relevant distortion is the effort to control the rental market, or the unhinged supply and demand behind it, isn’t much matter to people like Garado Odiji who is still desperately trying to find a place to live for his family. In New York, I’m Sabri Ben Achour for Marketplace.