The Geography of Rent Regulation in New York City

Thomas J. Waters

There are nearly 1 million rent regulated apartments in New York City, which offer important affordability protections for tenants. The current law governing rent regulation will expire in June 2015 and will be up for renewal by the New York State legislature in its new session, beginning this January. The question before legislators will be whether to strengthen the existing law by preserving existing units and protecting affordability; or whether to allow the ongoing process of vacancy deregulation by which previously regulated apartments become subject to market rates.  

We argue that the changing geography of rent regulation in New York City should inform this debate. As such, we have estimated the numbers of rent-regulated apartments (including both rent control and rent stabilization) for each legislative district in New York City. These estimates were made by allocating apartments from the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey’s sub-borough areas into legislative districts in proportion with local population as measured at the level of Census tract in the 2010 Census.

Geography of Rent Regulation

The most heavily rent-regulated areas of New York City are concentrated in central Brooklyn, western Queens, the West Bronx, and Upper Manhattan—essentially an inner ring around the historically high-rent areas of Manhattan below Harlem. This pattern, which partly reflects the effect of 20 years of vacancy deregulation, results in a constituency for rent regulation that disproportionately includes low-income people and people of color.

As tenants in these areas find their rents fast outstripping their incomes, the affordability protections of rent regulation become even more important.

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