The rent stabilization law that keep apartments affordable for millions of New Yorkers was just renewed, warts and all.
The fight in Albany between tenant advocates and politicians centered around closing loopholes in the law. The worst allows stabilized apartments to exit the program when their rent gets high enough, resulting in the loss of thousands of affordable apartments every year — far exceeding new construction of affordable apartments.
But if you ask the agency in charge of rent stabilization which buildings are losing stabilized apartments, they won’t tell you. In fact, they reject any Freedom of Information Law requests for data regarding the number of apartments in the stabilization program by building, citing unclear privacy concerns.
The only information they’ll release is a list of buildings that have apartments in the program. The list doesn’t indicate whether every apartment in a building is stabilized, or if only some are. Buildings that are 100% stabilized look the same on this list as buildings with just one apartment left in the program.
The secrecy blanketing the stabilization program makes it very difficult to understand how loopholes in the program affect affordability in different neighborhoods over time. Not only does this make life hard for tenant advocates, but it provides cover for landlords who fail to tell the state (register) their stabilized apartments. Registration is voluntary — another loophole in the law — and failure to do so could be an indication that they are overcharging their tenants.
If a landlord doesn’t like charging the legal rent, they can simply “forget” to register. It’s up to the tenant to take them to court to comply.
Hidden in plain sight
Remarkably, the number of stabilized apartments in each building over the last seven years is hidden in plain sight, in property tax bills. With help from a few civic hackers, I built taxbills.nyc, a collection of every tax bill going back to 2008 for every building that might be stabilized in New York City.
Putting together this site required downloading hundreds of thousands of tax bills PDFs over several months because New York City’s Department of Finance (DoF) wanted $50,000 to mail me files that could already be found free online. More on that in the next post.
…approximately 1,000 hours at a cost to you of $50.36 per hour is needed to fulfill your request… DoF Records Access Office
Using this data, I’ve put together a map that shows precisely where stabilized apartments have disappeared, remained, or been constructed between 2007 and 2014.
The map is meant to enable quick comparisons between four classes of buildings.
Major Losses, in red, buildings where 50% or more of the apartments in the building have left stabilization between 2007 and 2014. These buildings are densest in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the high-rent vacancy loophole has allowed very large numbers of apartments to exit the program. However, Bushwick is also a hotspot for this class, which would suggest that landlords there are failing to register the stabilized apartments in their buildings.
Decreases, in yellow through orange, buildings where up to 50% of the apartments in the building have left stabilization. The Upper East Side again leads the way in losses here, but there are significant patches of loss along the high-density stabilized corridor from Prospect Park to the ocean in Brooklyn along Ocean Ave, and along Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.
Steady, in blue, buildings where the number of stabilized apartments has remained the same or very slightly increased. In Manhattan, Chinatown and Washington Heights have held their apartments relatively well; much of the Bronx along the Grand Concourse has, too. Those landlords who are registering in Bushwick, Brooklyn often are registering the same number of apartments 2014 as 2007. Many buildings on Ocean ave in Brooklyn have held steady, too.
Increases, in cyan through green, buildings where the number of stabilized apartments has increased 10% or more. These are often new developments with affordable housing.
Buildings with more apartments have larger diameter circles, and precise unit counts, subsidies, and addresses are available by hovering or clicking on their circle.
Color is based off of the percentage change in stabilized apartments over the total number of apartments in the building. So a building with 20 apartments total that had 10 stabilized in 2007, and 5 stabilized in 2014, would be a 25% loss. Its circle would be orange.
By using the map and its underlying data, advocates should be able to identify buildings:
just starting to lose significant numbers of stabilized apartments
whose landlords have stopped registering with the state, and thus may contain tenants at risk of overcharge
It is also possible to break down losses and gains by any political boundary, so electeds can understand how loopholes are affecting rental affordability for their constituents.
Get the data!
The underlying data is available in several CSV tables on taxbills.nyc. The underlying scrapers, which download the bills, and parsers, which turn the HTML pages and PDFs downloaded into tabular data, can be found on GitHub.
The guide to using the data is on GitHub.