Monday, March 18, 2013

Beginning to Assess Sandy’s Impact on Tenants

At last week’s RGB public meeting, one recurring question from board members was: how many rent stabilized apartments were damaged by Hurricane Sandy? HPD’s Assistant Commissioner for Government Affairs and Research Christopher Gonzalez posited that 16,000 subsidized housing units were affected by the storm, but, as we know, rent stabilization is not a subsidy program. It is likely these subsidized apartments were in Mitchell-Lama, tax-credit and supportive housing developments.

The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has released an extremely helpful document that aims to quantify the impact of the storm on the city’s housing stock. The report, entitled Sandy’s Effects on Housing in New York City, examines the impact of the storm on the city’s various housing types, and concludes that low income New Yorkers were hit hardest by the storm’s physical and economic impact.

Rent stabilized housing:
The Furman Center estimates that 839 rent stabilized buildings, containing 41,102 apartments, are located in the storm surge area. (Rent stabilized buildings are defined as any building containing one or more rent stabilized apartment.)  Though they account for just 1.1% of buildings, they house 13.6% of residents in the area. This makes rent stabilized tenants the second largest group affected by the storm, behind residents of 2 to 4 family buildings.

Extent of damage:
The city’s evacuation zone encompasses over 270,000 residential buildings, which contain more than 1 million apartments. Of those, approximately 300,000 apartments in 76,000 buildings were directly impacted by the storm. This accounts for about 9% of the city’s housing stock.

While damage to single-family homes has dominated media coverage of the storm and its aftermath, the Furman Center reports that 70% of damaged apartments are in large buildings. The vast majority of residential buildings in the storm surge area were built before 1974, the current cut-off year for rent stabilization. (The plurality of buildings in the surge area- 21%- were built in the 1960s.)

Impact on tenants:
After the storm, over 150,000 households in New York City registered with FEMA for assistance. It is widely speculated that, due to a lack of information or fears over immigration status and other legal questions, many affected households did not sign up for assistance. The number of FEMA-registered households accounts for half of the households in the surge area, and four percent of the city as a whole. A majority of registered Sandy victims are tenants, with 45% representing home owners and landlords.

The Furman Center points out that FEMA’s assistance program is focused largely on single family homes. This makes little sense for New York City, where the vast majority of residents are tenants in multi-family buildings. Even in the storm surge area, only 10% of households live in single-family homes, and less than 20% live in 2 to 4 family homes.

The dearth of federal resources for multi-family housing will not impact tenants and landlords equally. Among those registered with FEMA, average income for landlords was $82,000; for tenants, it’s just $18,000. Two-thirds of tenants have household incomes under $30,000. (This represents a significantly lower average income than the city as a whole; city-wide, 41.6% of tenants make less than $30,000.) Sandy victims also tend to be older than the city as a whole, with seniors living alone accounting for 12.1% of all affected households. This storm severely hurt low income and senior tenants.

The takeaway:
The Furman Center’s research dispels the myth that single family homeowners were the group most affected by the storm, and refocuses attention on low income tenants, many of whom are rent stabilized. The hurricane dealt a devastating blow to renters, who were thrust into deep insecurity and had to pay enormous costs for replacement housing, damaged items, and lost income.

Tenants bore the brunt of the storm’s impact, and should not have to suffer another rent increase on top of all the additional costs they have incurred. Preserving housing affordability is of the utmost importance, with more tenants in search of replacement apartments and fewer low rent apartments available. The Furman Center writes:

“Given the extremely low incomes of the renters claiming damages, they are par­ticularly at-risk of being unable to locate new housing that is affordable to them. In normal times, the overall amount of hous­ing affordable to these households is lim­ited – indeed, just 22 percent of rental units in New York City are affordable to households whose annual income is below $30,000. Finding replacement housing for these families is likely to be a long-term challenge for New York City if they cannot stay in their homes.

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