Greenwich Photo: Spencer Means/Flickr

Nearly 3,000 rent-stabilized units in the Upper West Side and the Central Park West historic districts have disappeared in the last seven years. Meanwhile, Greenwich Village has lost almost 1,500 units. Combined, these historic districts have 30 percent fewer rent-stabilized units than they had less than a decade ago.

The Real Estate Board of New York’s latest study shows that the number of rent-regulated apartments within NYC’s historic districts is declining four times faster than in non-landmarked areas of the city.

This data contradicts the notion that historic districts preserve affordable housing. Affordable units in historic districts are lost at a rate much faster than they are built — but is that due to landmarking or general market forces?

The REBNY study found that in the last seven years, only five affordable housing units were built in Manhattan landmark districts and only 100 were built in historic districts across the entire city. Last year, REBNY reported that in 2013, less than one percent of all housing units (1,318 new units at the time) were constructed on landmarked properties citywide.

Experts hold contrasting opinions about the impact historic districts have on affordable housing.

REBNY President John Banks said that the historic district system is a major obstacle in the push for affordable housing.

“Affordable housing remains one of our city’s most pressing needs, and these numbers do not show any evidence that landmarking helps to preserve it. This report refutes the notion that historic districts are a good means of preserving existing affordable housing,” he said.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation countered his position, stating that other forces explain the net loss of units, and that landmarked areas actually help to slow the net loss trend. 

John Krauss, the original author of the data cited by REBNY’s report, defended GVSHP’s position. He noted that landmarked areas often preserve rent-stabilized units at a higher rate than their non-landmarked counterparts in the same neighborhood. 

“Most apartments leave stabilization through ‘high-rent vacancy’ decontrol, which requires that the rent of an apartment be higher than $2,700 when a new lease is signed,” he said.

According to Krauss, the REBNY study has only proven that landmark areas have higher rents.

He also stated that landmarking could have actually helped keep regulated units alive.

“Without landmarks, developers would be incentivized to buy out existing stabilized tenants and replace the buildings,” he said.

At any rate, when so few units are being constructed, the districts are more susceptible to the net loss of affordable units. Sometimes, this is due to less-than-ethical actions by managers and landlords.

In New York City, there are thousands of units that should be classified as rent-stabilized, but oversight on rent continuity has fallen by the wayside. The New York City Rent Guidelines Board offers a tool to help tenants discover whether they’re living in a rent-regulated unit, and they could even help retrieve the rent money they have already paid to landlords. 

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council majority are working on a number of reforms to protect and promote affordable housing. Recent legislature was passed to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords with aggressive buyout practices. The mayor is even devoting $12.3 million to build city agencies that fight for tenants facing wrongful eviction to prevent homelessness. 

Follow @bbnyc for the latest on development and policy in New York City.

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