There’s no doubt that New York City is a tough place to live, but a new interactive map shows just how hard it is for residents to stay in their homes.
ProPublica reported last year that NYC evictions had increased over the past few years, mainly due to a City Council vote back in the ’90s that allowed landlords to deregulate rent-stabilized properties when the tenants who benefitted from that stabilization moved out. Not only has this has a significant impact on the number of rent-stabilized apartments throughout the city, but it’s also given landlords a free pass to evict rent-stabilized tenants so they can make more money more quickly.
Brooklyn-based startup JustFix.nyc recently launched an app that shows exactly where New Yorkers were being evicted between 2013 and 2015. Gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods, like Crown Heights and Bushwick, are lit up like a Christmas tree on the map. Between that two-year span, there were nearly 450,000 evictions filed, which translated to somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 evictions that were carried out annually.
Another piece of the puzzle is the fact that most tenants are drastically under-represented in housing court. While only about 1% of civil cases ever reach trial in federal court, it’s common to see lines out the door in New York City’s housing courts, where tenants wait to fight their battles. And unfortunately, they’re often doing it alone. In a 2005 review of state court-filed civil cases, plaintiffs won 68% of all bench trials. Because 99% of the landlords involved in New York City conviction cases have lawyers — and only 27% of tenants do — the odds are even more stacked against those who have called these neighborhoods their homes for years.
There is something being done about it, though. The city recently passed a law that will fund legal services for residents who fall below a certain income bracket (approximately $49,000 for a family of four) and who are facing eviction. These services will be free for these tenants, but they’ll cost the city $155 million per year.
Still, a lot of experts feel the cost is worth it. Having a lawyer can make all the difference in the world for tenants who are attempting to navigate the arduous legal process themselves. The commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services, Steven Banks, noted to Marketplace.org that the new law could keep families at home instead of in the NYC’s homeless shelters. Not only would this be far better for the well-being of these families, but it actually makes more economic sense for the city.
“To spend a couple of thousand dollars to provide legal services versus tens of thousands of dollars to provide shelter makes this a very good investment,” said Banks.
That said, having a lawyer won’t necessarily keep families off the street. They’ll still need the money to pay their rent, of course. Skeptics say the law could simply delay the inevitable, which could end up hurting property owners.
Joseph Strasburg, head of the Rent Stabilization Association (a landlord advocacy group), played out a scenario that worries him to Marketplace.org:
“Look at what happens,” he said. “The owner is out of rent for months, which has an impact on their ability to put money back into the building, pay off their real estate taxes, and how about their mortgage?”
But in the end, statistics show that it’s the tenants, not the landlords, who stand to get hurt due to greed and legal loopholes.