By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
Organized chants of “Save Our Homes!” and “Irving Langer: Shame, Shame Shame!” rang throughout the street on Tuesday July 25 in Carroll Gardens as speakers at a rally in the neighborhood urged the people attending to fight against the end of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program at 63 Tiffany Place. The end of the program is expected to trigger a wave of evictions of people from the building as the current landlord Ivan Langer, recently dubbed one of the worst landlords in the city, will be permitted to impose rent hikes on tenants.
John Levya, who has lived in the apartment complex for three decades, said the tenants have been dreading this moment for years. When Levya moved into the building after it first opened in the early 90s, he said the rent for his apartment was $604, now it’s $1,142 per month, a rare and almost fantastical price for the leafy Carroll Gardens neighborhood, where median rent for a one bedroom market rate apartment runs around $4,000. Levya said that many of the renters cannot afford to stay in the neighborhood without rental protections, and will have limited options for housing if prices are increased.
“People who moved in their 30s, 40s and 50s are now 60, 70 and 80. We even have a 90-year-old-couple that lives here. Where are they going to go? It’s just horrible,” Levya said. “At least three people have broken down and started crying here with me. Everybody has a dark cloud over their head, and that’s all we talk about in the elevator.”
The apartment building is currently a part of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which provides a “dollar for dollar reduction in federal income tax” for owners and developers of housing designated for low-income people. Rents under the program cannot exceed 60% of area median income, which means that current landlord, Langer, has to cap rents at $1,590 for a one bedroom apartment, less than half of the median rent price for a one bedroom at Carroll Gardens’ marketplace value.
However, the program is temporary. After 30 years, renters will no longer be protected by the Low-Income Tax Credit Program. For 63 Tiffany Place, that day is coming up in December of this year.
Ben Fuller Googins, deputy director of the Carroll Gardens Association, a non-profit organization striving to keep Carroll Gardens accessible to people of all income levels, said one of the inherent problems with the program is that it only provides safeguards to tenants for a fixed period of time.
“One of the major programs, not only in New York City, but in the country for creating affordable housing, is this Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and it’s inherently problematic because it has an expiration date,” Fuller-Googins said. “There is a more fundamental problem, where we need to create a system that’s actually for low-income people, and is permanent.”
Longtime Tiffany Place Tenant Joy Foster said in a speech that New York City had become a hostile city to renters, especially low-income ones, due to rising prices across the city.
“When I moved here 25 years ago, what I paid for rent was actually quite close to the norm … and now those rents have increased over ten fold. It’s not commensurate with people’s salaries,” Foster said. “It’s a sick and twisted game that is being played for the very few, the few at the top.”
According to the United Way of New York City, half of New York households can not afford to live in the city, and “do not have incomes that cover basic needs, such as housing, food, health care, and transportation.” After the pandemic, rent payments in New York City grew double the national rate at 33 percent between January 2021 and January 2022, as reported by the NYTimes.
This is true too in Carroll Gardens as prices have skyrocketed around 63 Tiffany Place since the tax program was implemented. According to the NYU Furman Center, rates in the area have risen 38.3 percent since 2006, swiftly outpacing the slower 7.1 percent change in income levels over the same time period.
Tiffany Place was originally surrounded by old factory buildings and other low-rent housing. Now, the neighborhood is filled with bakeries and shops, designer dogs on expensive leashes and renovated brownstones that sell for millions of dollars. According to Levya, the people in the building were pioneers in the area when the neighborhood was much less affluent.
“You know, we built a great community. When we first moved here, it wasn’t as nice as it is now. You couldn’t really walk around at night. It was really desolate, dark out here,” Levy said.
Some residents will be able to remain in the building after December. Linda Bell, resident of Tiffany Place for 29 years, said she has had to file a form every two years and travel an hour away to get her paperwork stamped by an office in Jamaica, Queens in order to renew her lease. Because of her efforts, Bell now has a short-term rent-stabilized lease that is valid until 2025, but many residents do not. Levy said he has not been given a lease by the landlord in eight years. In a phone call, Bell said she thinks the lack of lease renewals might have been intentional on the landlord’s part.
“I assumed it’s because they are trying to get rid of all of [the tenants],” Bell said. “[The tenants] think they have rights because they’ve been paying the same rent since 2012, but that is not so.”
Jenny Akchin, an attorney specializing in housing for local activist group TakeRoot Justice, also said she thinks that the landlords decision to let the tenants’ leases lapse was deliberate as it leaves the residents with very little legal protections from eviction or rental increases.
“We’re a little nervous about what’s going to happen in December when the tax housing credit program expires with all these tenants who don’t have leases. We think this is definitely part of the plan,” Akchin said.
Akchin said her organization is trying to provide tenants with rent stabilization protections to keep their rents lower after the tax credit program expires, though some residents will not be eligible. So far, Akchin said they have managed to get about a dozen tenants rent stabilized, but are aiming for 25 to 30. According to Akchin, the landlord has been appealing their rent stabilization requests because of a legal gray matter based on uncertainty around whether the building is classified as a condominium or apartment complex. As a general rule, condominiums are ineligible for rent stabilization.
“The really infuriating thing is that when we’ve applied to have tenants rent stabilized in the past, the landlord has actually appealed the decision saying that they can’t be rent stabilized because the building is a condominium,” Akchin said. “But [previous owners] never successfully converted it into a condo.”
E&M Associates, led by Langer, is notorious across several different boroughs for a high number of violations and evictions. Despite the work from tenants, activists and elected officials, it is unclear what will happen in December when the tax credit program expires unless Langer and E&M decide to either resyndicate the agreement or enter another affordable housing preservation program that will keep rents low. Almost 70 families and single people living at 63 Tiffany Place are at risk of losing their apartments.
Neither Langer nor any representatives for E&M attended the rally, and E&M Associates have not replied to requests to come to the table in order to negotiate a way to stabilize the rents.
In a phone call, Richard Walsh, a lawyer representing Langer and E&M, said there is no obligation for his client to negotiate any rent-stabilization measures or resyndicate the tax credit program. Walsh also said that the claims from the tenants are overblown.
“It’s voluntary, and we don’t have to extend it,” Walsh said. “We don’t know who’s making these claims up, they’re wrong. There’s no mass evictions on the horizon.”
Walsh said that his client cannot raise rents to unconscionable levels, or the company is at risk of being sued by tenants, at which point a judge would decide if the price increase is unconscionable or not. According to Walsh, a tenant can only be evicted with “good cause,” which includes not paying rent, illegally subletting an apartment, or being a nuisance. If rents at 63 Tiffany Place are converted to market prices in December, tenants who cannot afford the new payments can either choose to fight eviction proceedings in court or move elsewhere.
City Comptroller Brad Lander said that Irving Langer could keep the apartments affordable while still turning a profit. According to Lander, Brooklynites should come together to fight predatory landlords and maintain the atmosphere of their communities and neighborhoods.
“That’s really what’s at stake here, the families in this building, but also the vision of a Brooklyn where diverse people can live together, where working class and middle class families can afford to live in beautiful neighborhoods like this one,” Lander said.