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Testimony Before the New York City Rent Guidelines Board Regarding Rent Increases

Testimony Before the New York City Rent Guidelines Board Regarding Rent Increases

Friday, April 30, 2004

Members of the Rent Guidelines Board, I would like to thank you for inviting our organization to testify at this very important hearing regarding rent increases. My name is Benjamin Ross, and I am the Special Projects Coordinator at The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), an umbrella policy and advocacy organization of over 150 member groups that work with newcomers to our country.

Stable housing is the foundation from which immigrants and their families connect to local social and religious institutions, cultivate neighborhood ties, pursue educational and work opportunities, and contribute to New York City’s economic and cultural vibrancy. Unfortunately, for most of New York’s immigrants and their families housing instability is the shared experience. The most recent housing data from the 2002 Housing Vacancy Survey demonstrate that immigrant New Yorkers use a higher percentage of their income to pay rent than native New Yorkers, are more likely to live in overcrowded housing by a factor of three, and are more likely to live in housing with significant repair needs. Keeping rent increases to a minimum will ensure New York City remains an attractive destination for immigrant workers, decrease overcrowding due to exorbitant rents, and allow working immigrant families paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent to stay in their apartments and continue to be active members in their community.

According to the Population Studies Department of the New York City Department of Planning, as of the Year 2000 Census immigrants comprise 40 percent of New York City’s population and immigrants and their children account for almost two-thirds of the City’s population. If not for the influx of foreign-born residents, New York's population over the past three decades would have fallen to about 5 million; instead the had over 8 million residents in 2004. In the last decade alone the foreign-born population in New York City has increased to 36 percent from 28 percent. New York’s population is more diverse than any other American city’s: roughly one-quarter of the City’s population is “Hispanic,” more than 10% are “Asian,” and there are hundreds of thousands of “White” immigrant New Yorkers, largely from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The influx of immigrants into the City has contributed greatly to the diversity and strength of New York’s economy.

Immigrant workers are a significant and important part of New York City economy:

  • In 2003, there were 1.4 million immigrant workers in New York City and they accounted for 47% of the city's resident workforce.
  • Immigrant workers in New York City are nearly twice (1.8 times) as likely to earn minimum wages as native-born workers: 11.7% of immigrant workers receive minimum wage earnings vs. 6.4% of native-born workers.
  • The share of all New York workers earning less than $7.00 an hour (measured in 2003 dollars) has tripled from 3.6% in 1979, to 11.7% in 2000. This has contributed to a surge in the ranks of New York working families who are poor, with the poverty rate among working families with children increasing from 6.4% in the late 1970s to 11.7% by the late 1990s.
  • The federal government has not raised the minimum wage since 1997. New York last raised its minimum wage in 2000, but that action only brought it up to the $5.15 an hour federal minimum. The inflation-adjusted value of the $5.15 minimum wage is approaching the lowest point in a half-century and is 40% below the peak level reached in 1968.

Data from the 2002 Housing Vacancy Survey demonstrate:

  • Immigrants pay more of income in their rent: While one in four of all New Yorkers pay more than half of their income in rent, when divided between immigrant and native-born renters, 27% of immigrant renters verse 22% of native born renters pay half of their income in rent;
  • Immigrant renters are three times as likely to live in overcrowded conditions; and
  • Immigrant renters are more than 62% more likely to live in unsound housing conditions.

We want to keep the New York City economy growing and make it an attractive place for our workers to live and work. An increase in rents will:

  • Cause a significant increase to an already alarmingly high rate of overcrowding;
  • Encourage a vital section of our workforce to seek employment in other cities with more affordable housing; and
  • Make it that much more difficult for immigrants to provide their basic needs and those of their families.

Immigrants have long been a vital component of New York City's population and its economic dynamism. In order to ensure that immigrants and their families find and maintain affordable housing we urge you to keep rent increases to an absolute minimum.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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