Testimony: New York City’s Charter Revision Commission

Oksana Mironova

Thank you to the Commissioners of the City’s Charter Revision Commission for the opportunity to submit written testimony on changes to the City Charter. My name is Oksana Mironova and I am a Housing Policy Analyst at The Community Service Society (CSS), an independent nonprofit organization that addresses some of the most urgent problems facing low-income New Yorkers and their communities, including the effects of the city’s housing affordability crisis.

New York City has always been known as a chronically tight, high-cost rental market. In recent decades, housing affordable to low-income New Yorkers has become more elusive and homelessness has skyrocketed. The city’s low-income population has remained fairly stable since 2000, with about a million households living below twice the federal poverty level. Yet the number of homeless families in shelters has tripled.

Housing is a primary concern for New Yorkers across all income levels. However, low-income renters are most vulnerable to a range of housing insecurity types, including increasingly unaffordable rents; inadequate, unsafe housing conditions; and, increasing instances of landlord harassment. For many low income households, housing insecurity leads to doubling up, eviction, and homelessness.

A review of the New York City Charter provides the opportunity to update this governing document with language that will help make it easier to address the city’s housing affordability crisis.

We are calling for the addition of a “right to housing” provision to the Charter, as a complement to the “right to shelter” mandate from the New York State. Even though the “right to shelter” mandate has helped create an essential homeless service infrastructure for the state, it has proven to be insufficient to permanently house New York City’s growing homeless population.

A prolonged recession and wage stagnation combined to create a striking rise in housing insecurity. Even though economic indicators have improved in recent years, population growth, the gentrification of formerly disinvested neighborhoods, the emphasis on luxury development in new construction, diminishing support from state and federal governments, as well as the deregulation of rent-stabilized and subsidized units have increased competition for fewer lower-priced units. This is reflected in the 2017 net vacancy rates. A the 2017 Housing Vacancy Survey shows, apartments renting for less than $800 had a vacancy rate of just 1.15 percent while apartments renting for $2000 or more had a vacancy rate of 7.42 percent.

As housing costs continue to rise citywide, a “right to shelter” requirement without a complementary “right to housing” requirement has created a shelter system which serves over 32,000 households or over 60,000 people. Today, many low income New Yorkers are on the brink of a lengthy cycle of precarious housing, eviction, homelessness, and temporary shelter.

New York City should go beyond the State-mandated “right to shelter”, to enshrine every New Yorker’s right to a home that is permanent, affordable, and safe. A New York City “right to housing” requirement would create a framework that would encourage the creation of permanent and deeply affordable housing.

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