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Report: Historic Districts Don't Preserve Stabilized Housing

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The least impartial group imaginable, the Real Estate Board of New York, just put out a new report that says that between 2007 and 2014, neighborhoods with more historic districts lost more rent-stabilized housing than neighborhoods with less historic districts. The report says that the number of rent-stabilized apartments in historic districts throughout the city decreased 23-percent to 34,457 over the study period compared with just five percent in areas with less historic districts. The two neighborhoods with historic districts that lost the most rent-stabilized housing? Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side. But all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Crain's points out that the report was "designed to undercut [the] key pro-landmarking argument used by preservation groups" that historic districts help preserve existing affordable housing.

Crain's says that the report was based off of data gathered by a blogger named John Kraus, who used tax bills to determine the amount of stabilized apartments in a given building (It's painstaking work, but someone's gotta do it.) REBNY then repurposed the numbers for their study to reflect the net change of rent stabilized apartments. An interesting point of note: REBNY cited that only five units of affordable housing were built in Manhattan historic districts throughout the city between 2003 and 2012.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation issued the following statement against the report:


This is a classic case of pretending that correlation equals causation, when the number one rule of statistics it is that it does not. The real question, which this bogus "study" does nothing to address, is how many units would have been lost in those areas if they were not landmarked? Given that without landmarking many of these areas would have seen the wholesale demolition of buildings, including those with rent-stabilized housing, it's clear on its face that many more units of rent stabilized housing would have been lost in these areas were it not for landmark designation.

To say that landmarking is the reason that more units are leaving rent stabilization in landmarked areas of Manhattan like Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side than in non-landmarked areas like Washington Heights and Inwood, or in landmarked areas of Brooklyn like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope than in unlandmarked areas like Bensonhurst and Brownsville, does not pass the laugh test. How stupid does REBNY think New Yorkers are that anyone would buy this?

Given the very lax vacancy and "luxury" decontrol rules which allow rent stabilized units to leave the system, it's no surprise that many such units have been lost in neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, where thousands of such units nevertheless remain, among our city's largest concentrations. Without landmarking, and the wholesale demolition of buildings which would have inevitably taken place, many more units would have been lost.

Additionally, while REBNY's statistics show the number of rent stabilized units declining at a faster rate in Manhattan and Brooklyn landmarked properties than non-landmarked ones, they actually show them declining at a slower rate in Queens and rising in the Bronx, and doing so rising faster than in non-landmarked properties. How does REBNY explain that?

It's no surprise that a group which has spent the last two decades fighting every affordable housing measure in New York would keep churning out statistically unsound and specious reports like this that blame preservation of buildings, of all things, for our city's affordability crisis. REBNY has spent the last two decades pouring millions of dollars into efforts to ensure that affordability measures in New York are blocked, stripped, or repealed, and now they are trying to do the same thing with preservation (If you want to know what I am basing this assertion on, see our report Check the Facts & Consider the Source: Campaign Cash and REBNY's Real Record on Affordable Housing). GVSHP also corralled a comment from data gatherer John Kraus who, in short, says that the lost apartments in landmarked areas are due to high-rent vacancy decontrol, which really on proves that landmarked areas are often more expensive. Kraus followed up with some additional info,

Comparing changes in non-421 a rent stabilization between 2007 and 2014 by community board shows that landmark areas preserved their stabilized units better than their non-landmark counterparts in many neighborhoods. The Upper East Side, for example, lost over 28-percent of its stabilized units in non-landmark buildings (14,996 registered in 2007 and 10,755 in 2014), but less than 10-percent in landmark buildings (2,461 registered in 2007, 2,215 in 2014). · Landmarking does not protect affordable housing, report says [Crain's]
· Nearly 200 Buildings Shirked Rent Stabilization Rules [Curbed]
· New Rent Laws May Be Better For Tenants Than Expected [Curbed]
· Lifestyles of the Rent Stabilized archives [Curbed]
· Rent Wars archives [Curbed]