By Anessa V. Cohen
Metro New York has always been a popular place to live, no matter what kind of home a New Yorker’s pocketbook and lifestyle might afford him. For those looking to live in Manhattan, searching for that elusive space to call home can take a long time, unless luck comes your way and a perfect apartment just falls into your lap. I don’t hear many stories about that happening. Do you?
I have always resented the idea that a set number of apartments, which seem to never go on the market publicly, have been set up as “rent controlled” since World War II. It may have seemed like the thing to do at the time, since during a war of that magnitude, special arrangements had to be made in many areas to help the public. But we are now 70 years after the war, and the rent-controlled offering of great apartments for 5 cents on the dollar compared to what the rest of the public is paying simply does not seem fair. The only ones able to enjoy these apartments are those who have managed to inherit them from parents or other family members—like a special membership in a country club. They pay ridiculously low rent while possibly keeping second homes and vacation homes out of the city or enjoying large incomes while paying subsidized rents that were intended for people who could not afford market rents.
Rather than getting rid of this now unfair category of rental properties in the city that basically service an elite few, politicians look the other way. It would be bad for public relations to do away with rent controls, since much of the public is unaware of how it now is utilized in a way it was never intended.
Many mayors of New York City have tried to address the need to add affordable housing to the housing stock in New York City that would be available to low- and middle-income tenants. While I agree that this would be wonderful, somehow when all is said and done and some type of affordable housing is added (other than low-income housing projects), there again seem to be a select few who are given the ability to take advantage of the rental housing that is made available.
Mayor Bloomberg’s idea was to have each large developer that was building housing projects in the city put aside a percentage of those apartments as low- and middle-income rental housing so as to create at least some new housing for that income population. Those developers planning luxury projects with many amenities such as doormen, indoor swimming pools, gyms, and party rooms—to name but a few—found themselves with the dilemma of how to create some housing at reduced rental pricing to satisfy this requirement without the problem of having their rental so disparate, with the luxury rental client paying top dollar for an apartment in the same complex at the same time.
Some of them came up with an interesting solution, which was to build their buildings with two entrances—almost like two buildings attached. One entrance would lead to the apartments occupied by the tenants paying market rents, including all the amenities of the building, and a second entrance would lead to a second series of apartments for those paying subsidized rentals with no amenities. These apartments without the amenities would also have to be priced based on the guidelines set by the city for low- and middle-income tenants, and those tenants would have to be approved for those guidelines much in the same way one would apply for a mortgage.
After a few of these buildings were completed and rented out, some new voices at odds with the way the developers created the division of apartments are being vocal in their complaints. Instead of lauding the developers’ creativity in finding solutions for how to develop nice apartments at affordable rates in prime locations in the middle of Manhattan, tenants in many of these apartments without amenities are crying “Discrimination!” because they are not allowed to utilize the amenities that have been provided to the high-rent tenants of the complex. They are even complaining that they are willing to pay extra for these amenities but are not being allowed this service by the powers that be, and that it is not fair that they cannot utilize the amenities as well.
I started laughing while reading this! I could not get a rent-controlled apartment in New York City even if I wanted one, since you need a relative who grabbed one during WWII and kept it in the family like an inheritance. I would not qualify for the beautiful new apartments offered to these low- and middle-income people in some of the best locations in Manhattan because my income is higher than the threshold amount. Although they have gotten these great places to live at discount prices, they are screaming “Discrimination!” because they are not allowed to pay extra for amenities—which, if they can really afford, raises the question why they are paying subsidized discount rents to begin with! What is the matter with this picture?
I am sure we have not heard the end of this story, and I look forward to hearing how this will continue to evolve.
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.