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2017-08-07 — nybooks.com

... [NHC] rent-stabilized apartments are disappearing at an alarming rate: since 2007, at least 172,000 apartments have been deregulated. To give an example of how quickly affordable housing can vanish, between 2007 and 2014, 25 percent of the rent-stabilized apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were deregulated.

A major reason for this is that once the monthly rent of an apartment exceeds $2,700, the owner may charge a new tenant whatever the market will bear--which, because of the exceptional pressures on New York real estate, may be thousands of dollars more. Not long ago a rent-stabilized building would sell for ten or at most twelve times its rent roll--the amount of money, before expenses, that it generates in a year. Today, it sells for perhaps thirty or forty times that amount, or ten times what the rent roll would be after regulated tenants have been dislodged. The clearing out of rent-stabilized tenants has become such a common real estate practice that it is added to a building's value even before the fact. Landlords have found enough loopholes in tenant protection laws to make widespread displacement a viable financial strategy. A building in Crown Heights with one hundred stabilized units and a rent roll of $1.2 million might now fetch $40 million or more--and every tenant must be forced out for the investment to be recouped.

The buyers at these prices are, more often than not, private equity funds that manage pools of investors' money: a typical participant in the Central Brooklyn market describes itself as an asset investment firm that specializes in the "repositioning" of multifamily buildings. The aggressive entry of hypercapitalized investors into the working- and lower-middle-class real estate market has struck Central Brooklyn--and the South Bronx, and East Harlem, and Washington Heights, and practically every New York neighborhood with a concentration of rent-stabilized buildings--like a thunderclap in the span of just a few years. They are a new type of owner in the outer boroughs, ones who can afford patient, relentless eviction proceedings and tenant buyouts in a way that most previous owners, who were often individual slumlords working with a different set of profit margins, could not.

...

S's daughter, who was studying to become a dental hygienist, took on extra hours at a retail clothing chain where she worked [to afford a near-doubling in rent in their Crown Heights apartment]. But they still missed rent payments, and late fees were piling up, adding to the burden. S seemed locked in a nightmare when I saw her one morning begging for a fare at the Utica Avenue subway station so she could get to her job as a home nursing aide in Manhattan. She had become impoverished overnight, paying close to 70 percent of her income in rent, and saw no recourse other than to accept her new landlord's offer of $45,000 to move out and sign away any lingering legal claim she might have to renew her lease at the stabilized rate.

"I put up with these streets when you had to be half-crazy to go out to the bodega for a quart of milk after dark," said S. "I got rid of a rat infestation four years ago myself." She and other tenants once pooled money to install a new hot water heater when the old one broke down. "We watched over this street, we cleaned it up. Why should we have to leave?" S and her daughter were shuttling between various relatives and friends--paying for a couch here, a spare bed there--when I lost touch with them.

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