Gotham Gazette

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The State Must Take on Frankensteining Before More Affordable Apartments Vanish

Under construction (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)

The Stand for Tenant Safety/Coalition to End Apartment Warehousing applauds the New York State housing agency’s proposed regulations regarding the first rents for combined or “Frankensteined” apartments. Under that proposal, where at least part of a newly-combined apartment is rent-stabilized, the newly-created unit would be rent-stabilized at whatever the last stabilized tenants paid, with any rent increase or decrease tied to the percentage in the new apartment’s change in size, plus any individual apartment increase (IAI).

Tenants are facing major displacement pressure from Frankensteining just as they did from IAIs, the vacancy bonus, and other now-limited ways that landlords had an incentive to increase rents and remove tenants from their homes.

As tenants who have lived through Frankensteining construction, we have experienced the drastic decline in living conditions in buildings undergoing these changes. Construction has led to excessive dust, noise, and disruption. 

Frankensteining allows landlords to enrich themselves while undermining neighborhood stability and reducing the number of affordable and rent-stabilized units. There are no mechanisms for government agency oversight or even the minimal accountability for the rent increases that come with IAIs or building-wide improvements.

Apartments that previously rented for $1,000-$2,000 each per month, when combined, can be listed for $9,000 or more — whatever the market will bear. The landlord may add a dishwasher, fancy kitchen counters, and some crown molding, essentially cosmetic changes that do little but raise rents, while most working people just need a decent, affordable place to live.

It’s frustrating that this “apartment combination/setting a new first rent” loophole has caused the loss of affordable housing (as shown in “Warehousing and Frankensteining,” our recent report with case studies of nine Manhattan buildings), especially after the valiant efforts of tenants throughout the state to protect their homes led to the passage of the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA), which significantly strengthened rent regulations. 

In our ever-increasing housing and homelessness crisis, every affordable apartment makes the difference for someone who needs housing immediately. Building more affordable housing is necessary, but preservation is easier, less costly, and the effects are immediate. While we wait for more housing to be built, we are losing more and more of the 858,000 rent stabilized apartments we do have. Since 2019, some 116,000 rent stabilized units vanished from the rent regulation system altogether, unregistered. 

The hearings about the new rules are over. Now we urge the state Department of Homes and Community Renewal to quickly implement the rules that disincentivize Frankensteining and preserve affordable housing. Any delay in the implementation of the rules is an egregious affront to the intent of the law and contributes to furthering the greatest affordable housing crisis since the Great Depression.  

by Jodie Leidecker, Sue Susman, and Edward Ratliff on behalf of The Stand for Tenant Safety/Coalition to End Apartment Warehousing. On Twitter @NyWarehousing.

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