Albany can't let insane NY housing laws send Bronx back to bad old days

POLITICS: Albany can’t let insane NY housing laws send Bronx back to bad old days

In a sign city housing is headed for even bigger trouble, 32 BJ SEIU building workers have OK’d a strike for April 30 if the Bronx Realty Advisory Board moves to reopen their year-old labor contract, a labor action that could pull 1,400 supers and other maintenance staff off the job across 430 buildings.

The landlord group is desperate to find some way to cut costs, as a growing number of its members are under water thanks, particularly to a state law that’s forcing ever-more rent-regulated apartments off the market.

The Bronx is the most vulnerable borough (highest unemployment, lowest average income, etc.), so it’s the first to hit crisis level here, but it won’t be the last.

The easiest solution would be for the Legislature to roll back the 2019 rent law that made it unaffordable for landlords to bring newly vacant apartments up to code, forcing them to warehouse the units even though it cuts total rental income for the building.

It can cost six figures to update an apartment that’s had the same tenant for decades; the law used to let landlords raise the rent cover those costs — until progressives passed the 2019 statute.

Senate bill S6552C, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Kenny Burgos (D-Bronx), would offer major relief on this front, but it’s not clear progressives will relent to pass it as part of the state budget (due by April 1 but likely to run late), let alone in the remainder of the session.

Which is why the Bronx landlords group is looking to exercise a clause in last year’s contract with 32BJ, and reopen the agreement to cut costs: If the Legislature won’t act, these are the only costs they can cut.

No, that state law isn’t the only issue slamming smaller landlords, especially: high-interest rates, the weakness of the banks that do most of the lending to rent-controlled-building owners (Signature, folded; New York Community Bank, in peril), soaring and unfair city property taxes, rising water and energy bills, skyrocketing insurance costs — it’s pretty much a perfect storm right now.

Oh, and many of these mom-and-pop operations took a huge hit from rent that went unpaid during the long COVID eviction moratorium.

Plus, Mayor Bill de Blasio kept regulated rent hikes far below the rise in landlords’ costs for his entire time in office, and Mayor Adams has been only a bit better.

Having a growing number of units they can’t rent out, nor renovate, is pushing a lot of these landlords to the edge: The family’s life savings are in the building, but they may have to let the bank take it, or sell to some faceless corporation or an unscrupulous slumlord — all of which is bad news for the remaining tenants.

Which is why they may have to risk the 32BJ strike if the Legislature doesn’t get them some real relief.

Howard Cosell didn’t actually say, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Bronx is burning” during that infamous 1977 World Series broadcast, but he and co-anchor did discuss “a huge blaze” — one of all too many in an era when arson seemed the only way out for a lot of distressed landlords; the decade that followed saw severe Bronx population loss.

That history must not repeat — in The Bronx or the many similarly threatened neighborhoods across the city.

Albany’s misguided laws are crushing the city’s housing market; fixing that is the most urgent issue in the state budget.

Note that many of the distressed Bronx landlords are in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s district: It sure seems his duty to stand up for his constituents and against the ideologues behind these lunatic laws.

If sane Democrats don’t stand up in Albany now, New York City’s about to get a whole lot less livable for working people in every borough.

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