Testimony: The “Warehousing Accountability Act”

Oksana Mironova

The New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings  
Re: Intro. 0226-2018 - The “Warehousing Accountability Act”

January 29, 2019


Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony on Intro. 0226-2018, “The Warehousing Accountability Act.” 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.

A low-cost apartment in the city is increasingly difficult to find, while the share of vacant high rent apartments is growing. According to the New York City Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS) the overall vacancy rate in 2017 was 3.63 percent. However, there was a vast difference in vacancy rates among different rental tiers. Apartments that cost over $2,000 have a 7.42 percent vacancy rate, while apartments under $800 have a 1.15 percent vacancy rate.

The overall housing stock has increased by approximately 69,000 units. However, the majority of that increase is in vacant units that are not available for sale or rent. As illustrated in the chart below, the number of vacant units that are not available for sale or rent went up by 65,406 units between 2014 and 2017.

The 2017 HVS breaks down some of the reasons why units are kept off the market. As highlighted in the chart below, there are 20,181 more units held for occasional, seasonal, or recreational use (difference between 2017 and 2014 tan segments) than there were in 2014. There are 17,524 more units held off market for “other” reasons (difference between 2017 and 2014 orange segments) than there were in 2014, which could include units being used for short-term rentals on home-sharing websites.

Unlike previous decades in New York City, vacancy is increasingly common in the private rental market. The Warehousing Accountability Act, Intro. 0226, would require private owners to register properties as vacant, after they have been vacant for more than a year. The bill’s enforcement mechanism –a weekly fine for failing to register –is especially important. This bill would provide the public with additional information for understanding how vacancy shapes the city’s high-cost real estate market.  

Vacant Property Registration Ordinances are increasingly common in municipalities nationwide, including in New York State and New Jersey, allowing community organizations to track both abandonment and speculation in their neighborhoods. The Warehousing Accountability Act would allow for enforceable transparency, and arm both grassroots organizations and the city with the baseline information necessary to address speculative practices that fuel gentrification and displacement.     

Thank you again for the opportunity to offer our recommendations. For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Oksana Mironova, CSS Housing Policy Analyst at 212-614-5412 or omironova@cssny.org.

Issues Covered

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