In an almost unanimous decision, Community Board 9—a local advisory board for Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, West Harlem, and surrounding communities—adopted a resolution calling upon Columbia and other institutions within the district to preserve rent-regulated units of housing in their buildings during its November general board meeting.
Morningside Heights and West Harlem have struggled with a lack of affordable housing for years. Rent regulation has served as a means of maintaining affordability for tenants in the area by setting limits on the amount that the landlord can raise the rent. The resolution comes amid ongoing real estate development in the neighborhood that has raised local rent prices, a phenomenon only exacerbated by Columbia’s $6 billion Manhattanville expansion, which has drastically increased threats of displacement, placing up to 1,318 units at risk of upward rent pressure.
Community members have long worried about rising rent prices and subsequent resident displacement as a result of Columbia’s 17-acre expansion and unchecked luxury real estate development, as well as efforts by predatory landlords to force out low-income tenants and convert their rent-regulated units into market-rate housing. Affordable housing issues have worsened under COVID-19, and housing experts have predicted that the influx of Columbia students into off-campus housing this semester may incentivize landlords to push out rent-stabilized tenants in favor of appealing to a new market, further exacerbating the housing crisis.
The resolution was adopted by CB9 with 35 in favor, one opposed, and one present but not entitled [to vote].
As a powerful landlord in the area, Columbia has had a long history of forcing out low-income tenants—a history that CB9 cited as a basis for its resolution on Nov. 19. In the 1950s and 1960s, Columbia and other local institutions bought many local buildings that contained rent-regulated units.
After purchasing the buildings, Columbia and other institutions within the community routinely evicted existing tenants from the rent-regulated units, according to the resolution. To address this issue, the statewide Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 attempted to offer protection for tenants in rent-stabilized apartments by requiring institutions to preserve rent regulation for the duration of a tenancy. However, through a process called vacancy decontrol, landlords can deregulate a rent-stabilized apartment and convert it into a market-rate unit once a vacancy occurs. Many landlords, including Columbia, have sought to find ways to indirectly displace tenants from their units; Columbia has historically replaced low-income tenants with institutional affiliates as it acquired more property.
Through this new resolution, CB9 aims to encourage Columbia and other local institutions to preserve the remaining rent-regulated units that exist within their buildings and, in the process, generate more affordable housing for residents. Members linked the goal of the preservation of rent-regulated units with the importance of diversity in the community.
“This resolution calls on the institutions that still hold some of those rent-regulated units from their buying sprees in the mid-20th century and calls upon them in the face of the crazy affordable housing crisis to maintain [these units] as rent-regulated units available for the public,” CB9 Chair Barry Weinberg said.
Units in recent luxury real estate developments, such as the projects at 100 Claremont Ave. and 30 Morningside Drive, are often priced higher than local residents can afford and therefore cater towards institutional affiliates. Thus, the resolution states CB9′s hope that the remaining rent-regulated units in institutionally-owned buildings can provide affordable housing to non-Columbia affiliates.
To preserve affordable housing, the resolution calls upon Columbia and other local institutions to stop applying vacancy decontrol to all units being rented by non-affiliates in institutionally-owned buildings. CB9 urges the use of an income threshold that is based on the neighborhood’s average median income to decide who will be renting these units. The resolution holds that these units should be rented “to people earning no more than the Area Median Income for Community Board 9 ($60,021 as of 2018).”
The governing board’s resolution also extends to future real estate developments within the neighborhood. The resolution urges institutions to begin a practice of setting aside 30 percent of units in newly constructed institutional buildings for residents earning under the Area Median Income as a way to maintain the diversity of the local community.
Two friendly amendments were also added to the resolution during the meeting. The first specified that the resolution applies only to larger institutions, which own six or more residential units. The second, proposed by board member Daria Hardeman, broadens the scope of the resolution from Morningside Heights specifically to the district as a whole.
“I live at 147th, which is outside of [Morningside Heights], and there are a lot of students,” Hardeman said. “When school started, suddenly, it’s literally a whole different neighborhood, and I fear the same sort of thing [that has happened in Morningside Heights] could be happening here.”