OPINION: Rent-stabilized landlords are the economic engines driving our neighborhoods

May 7, 2019 Janice Hamilton and Lincoln Eccles
Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Addressing the affordable housing crisis with politics instead of common-sense policy —as seems to be the path that elected officials are taking when it comes to state rent law reform — is bad for tenants, landlords, small businesses, jobs, neighborhoods and municipal services. Being honest about who landlords are, and what we do, would be a constructive discussion.

When preconceived, one-sided rhetoric drives housing policy, it ignores what middle class landlords (like us) do for affordable housing and, equally significantly, the positive economic impact our rent-stabilized buildings have on our neighborhoods.

We don’t want our buildings to deteriorate. We want our tenants to take pride in their homes — the same pride we take in our properties because, like most landlords in Brooklyn and the outer boroughs, we call our buildings home. Our tenants are our neighbors. We are accessible 24/7, and we respond right away because we live there.

Routine repairs and maintenance are a constant, which means the bills never stop coming. Juggling the finances makes for many sleepless nights. We have to prioritize repairs because we don’t have the financial resources to do all of them at once, and we have to hope that vendors, supply stores and utilities will work with us on a payment plan when we’re short.

A giant obstacle is reckless “crowd pleasing” policies. Government caps the rents, which on the surface sounds like it’s about protecting tenants. But our property taxes, water and sewer rates, heating oil, maintenance, repair and other operating costs are not capped.

Property taxes alone have increased well over 20 percent in the last four years. It’s simple arithmetic: When expenses and costs keep rising, but resources are fixed, it’s not a sustainable reality.

Rent-stabilized buildings like ours are family businesses. Our immigrant grandparents and parents came to America from places like the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

We grew up in these buildings. While our friends were playing in the schoolyard, we spent countless hours sweeping the hallways, taking out the garbage, painting (all of which we still do!) and learning from our parents. We are in this for the long term.

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Operating a rent-stabilized property is difficult because most buildings were built before WWII, which means they need massive capital repairs and upgrades — like changing out the old wiring with new electrical service, and installing new plumbing, roofing, boilers and windows.

Kitchens and bathrooms need to be completely gutted, common areas modernized, and new amenities introduced to improve the quality of life for our tenants, and to compete with new construction.

It’s bad enough that government regulations and politically-driven policies limit our rent and make it difficult to maintain our buildings, but now there are legislative proposals that would completely undermine our ability to make major capital improvements and much needed individual apartment improvements.

Eliminating these relied-upon resources that help landlords like us reinvest and maintain high living standards in our buildings would be felt not only by the families we house, but throughout our neighborhoods.

Buildings like ours are a neighborhood’s economic engine. When landlords like us have the resources to make major upgrades and improvements, we are providing hundreds of millions of dollars in business to local contractors — and that means they’re putting more people to work, which translates into tens of thousands of jobs for neighborhood residents — not just for the people they hire, but for the hardware, paint, appliance and other supply stores in the neighborhood where they purchase their materials.

These workers eat lunch at local shops and their families support retail in the neighborhood. This money stays local.

Elected officials must realize that landlords with rent-stabilized buildings provide the city’s largest volume of affordable housing, and that major capital improvements and individual apartment improvements power neighborhood economies. When it comes to affordable housing, rent-stabilized landlords aren’t the problem. We’re the solution.

Janice Hamilton provides affordable rent-stabilized housing to families in her eight-unit building in Prospect Heights, while Lincoln Eccles houses 14 families in his rent-stabilized building in Crown Heights. They are members of the Rent Stabilization Association, a trade association of multi-family property owners that lobbies in their interest.

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