Adams backs rent freeze, if analysis supports it

Mayor also supports governor’s 421a replacement program

Eric Adams (Getty, iStock)
Eric Adams (Getty, iStock)

Mayor Eric Adams favors freezing rents for regulated tenants this year — in theory.

Addressing the state legislature Wednesday during a hearing on the governor’s executive budget, Adams said he does not believe the city’s stabilized tenants should face rent increases, if the Rent Guidelines Board’s analysis supports a freeze. That is a big “if.”

The board’s staff each year releases a series of reports that suggest a range of rent increases and are generally viewed as a starting point for debate. The reports have long been criticized for their methodology, and property owners have expressed frustration that the board often approves increases that depart from these early recommendations.

Last year, for example, the reports suggested an increase of 2 percent to 2.75 percent for rent-stabilized tenants on one-year leases and 2.4 percent to 5.75 percent on two-year leases. Ultimately, however, the board froze rents for the first six months of one-year leases beginning Oct. 1, 2021, and allowed an increase of 1.5 percent for the next six months. It signed off on a 2.5 percent increase for two-year leases.

“The board over past years has looked at the data, ignored it, and voted based on political pressures,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord group.

Martin added that he hopes the mayor’s comments indicate that the board’s decisions will be guided by its staff’s reports. The mayor appoints all nine of the board’s members, a setup that has drawn some skepticism over the body’s independence from the administration, although some of the current members were installed not by Adams but by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

“We anticipate that this year’s RGB data, which board members must take into consideration, will support reasonable rent increases,” Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, another landlord group, said in a statement. “The RGB cannot pick and choose by only using the data when it benefits tenants. The needs of owners must be reflected in what the data indicates.”

In prepared testimony, Adams also voiced support for Hochul’s politically controversial proposal to replace the property tax break 421a with a similar program called 485w, as well as Hochul’s call to eliminate the cap on residential density.

“We support the concepts laid out in the governor’s 485w to promote additional affordable housing,” the mayor said. “While the city may ultimately propose minor changes, I believe this is a critically important tool.”

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When asked by Brooklyn Sen. Julia Salazar — a vocal 421a critic — which changes to 485w he would support, Adams suggested that the tax break should not be applied as a “blanket anywhere,” though he did not specify what that means. He then deferred to Salazar, saying he was open to hearing about changes she would like.

Adams gave a similar answer to Manhattan Sen. Liz Krueger, who said she favors letting 421a and another tax break, J-51, which was not addressed in the governor’s budget, expire. Krueger believes the city should craft its own program based on specific project needs.

In addition to praising the governor’s housing proposals, Adams said he will release his own housing plan in the next couple of weeks. The city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program was designed to work together with 421a. Hochul’s replacement program would create deeper affordability, but tenant advocates have said her changes do not go far enough.

During his three-plus-hour appearance before the legislature, Adams voiced support for a property tax overhaul, but did not commit to proposals outlined by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reform commission in his final week in office. Changing the city’s system would require state action.

Adams said he supported earlier efforts to litigate the city’s property tax system. De Blasio opposed a lawsuit brought by Tax Equity Now New York, which has lost repeatedly but has made a last-ditch request for the state’s highest court to hear the case. City Comptroller Brad Lander recently backed that effort.

The Adams administration would not specify its position on the lawsuit, but has indicated that it would help guide reform. Martha Stark, the group’s policy director, was part of the mayor’s transition team.

Adams also said he supports the governor’s call to require localities to allow accessory dwelling units on lots zoned for single-family homes, a proposal that includes $85 million to help bring illegal basement apartments and other ADUs up to code.

But after Queens Assembly member Edward Braunstein and Long Island Sen. Jim Gaughran said the plan could wrest control of land use decisions from localities, the mayor said he supports the governor’s idea “conceptually,” but that he is a “local government guy” and believes it should not be a “one-size fits all” policy.