The Rent Freeze That Wasn’t

The other day a critic of mine said, “Why don’t you write about affordable housing?” I said, “I don’t want to offend anyone.” Oh well… Here goes:

We don’t deal with anyone who lives in a rent stabilized apartment as part of our daily business, with some notable exceptions. Oftentimes people who own rent stabilized apartments want to sell them, and in doing so we interact, or sometimes a neighbor in a coop will be rent controlled, or an adjacent building with existing air rights. This is the rule of thumb: people with rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments don’t leave. They survive death as their heirs can inherit their apartments. Sometimes some of my very lovely friends who may have been raised in Manhattan are even lucky enough to negotiate buy outs, which can act as seed money to stake a family to buy their first home.

So on NY 1 News they had people calling in after the City Council adopted a plan that raised rent stabilized rents 1% over the next year and 2.75% for 2 year leases. The crowd wanted a rent freeze. The modest increase was in fact the slightest increase, as in the smallest, of the last 50 years. However, despite it being the best deal tenants have gotten from the City in most of their living memories, few were pleased.

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Tenants were DISGUSTED, disappointed, irate, aghast. They wanted to know, “how do they expect us to pay more rent without an increase in real wages?”

Landlords were pissed! How can we only get a 1% increase when property taxes have tripled in the last 5 years?! Utility prices have gone up?! Maintenance for my building is subject to inflation and I can’t afford it!

However, ironically, no one was more upset than the bystander. The bystander is the market rate tenant. One caller said “Rent stabilization only exists in 2 cities in the country and the free market tenants are subsidizing the rent controlled tenants. It should be eliminated. It’s an entitlement.”

Now what does the Sauce have to say?

Dear tenants, you are a lucky mofo. Stop bitching. Say Thank You. It’s not everyone else trying to rob you. I would be sorry that the world is a mean cruel place, but luckily for you, you have a safety net. If I had a Mayor who promised a rent freeze and reneged, I might wonder why the Mayor keeps writing checks with his mouth his ass can’t cash, but I wouldn’t blame just him. I think the Mayor understands holistically that the cost of living is astronomical and that the City is organized chaos. 1% is equivalent to the US Soccer team getting to the World Cup finals. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Dear landlords, you are likely not all that sharp. And if society was left in your hands this island would resemble Lord of the Flies. Let’s look at this. If you inherited your buildings, well, sorry Mommy bought you a Toyota not a Lexus. If you bought your building – look, see the first paragraph. Rent controlled tenants don’t leave. You bought the building subject to their leases. The reason a landlord would want a rent controlled tenant is because the City (read the taxpayers) discount their property taxes in exchange. Landlords complain the rent controlled tenants are all sorts of bad things. Know what they really are though? Less fortunate than you! Count your blessings. Stop being such a pig. Learn how to share.

Dear bystander, you have no idea what you are talking about. Let’s look at the stats. NYC has mass transit so the public can efficiently get from point A to point B without owning a car. NYC has the best food in the world, great artists, some of the best schools in the country, and is the most in demand tourist location in the USA. Better than Los Angeles. Better than Miami, Chicago, and the town you grew up in. NYC has the most valuable real estate in the country. NYC saw the lowest decline during the crash. NYC has the least leveraged real estate. Why? It’s called infrastructure.

However, none of the parties are thinking of the big picture. All of this becomes like sports. No matter what your personal interests are, as a professional negotiator, you can’t hate a negotiated settlement. All of life is a negotiation. Your very DNA is a negotiation between your father and your mother. A successful negotiation is an enduring love. Without challenges we can’t have victories. A world without disagreements isn’t ideal, in fact it’s not our world at all.

Rent control is social infrastructure, and while staring at the details might distort your perspective, the bigger picture is that informed and wise urban planning have made this world city resemble other great global cities, places like Paris and Berlin, where government subsidy similar to rent control are the nutrients that keep an honest, active, and healthy labor force proximate to the goods and services they help deliver to the more affluent classes. In fact the wealth and affluence of the City society is a result of the infrastructure, not a vestige. Informed analysis shows that without social support you have bankrupt cities like Detroit, filled with crime. A city that doesn’t maintain all of its infrastructure actually can die. The clinical analyst who sees things in a vacuum would be wise to take a deep breath. For that matter, we all should.

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