May 24, 2021 – The following is a statement from AAFE regarding a highly irresponsible online article in Documented NY, which makes a number of wildly false and misleading claims about our work as an affordable housing developer and property manager.
From the moment we first heard from the freelance reporter behind the article, it was apparent that she had a predetermined narrative and many misguided ideas about our community development work. In the spirit of openness, we agreed to a sit-down interview and answered four rounds of written questions via email over a two month period. The interview was recorded by both AAFE and the reporter. In the end, almost none of what we provided was included in the story, and to our dismay, all facts directly contradicting her narrative were omitted.
Here are a few of the untrue and misleading assertions in the Documented NY article.
While the publication claimed that a resident of a walkup AAFE building on the Lower East Side was denied a request to be transferred to an elevator building, the opposite is true.
● He and his wife were offered a 1-bedroom apartment with an elevator on the Lower East Side, but declined, saying they wanted a larger unit. At the time, we did not have any 2-bedroom apartments with an elevator available in the neighborhood.
● The article went on to falsely suggest that we were choosing not to cash the resident’s rent checks as part of some sort of scheme to evict him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Following the passing of his wife, we were working to confirm the resident’s succession rights, since only she and her family members were listed on the lease, and also learn who would be living in the apartment (the city’s minimum occupancy rules would not have permitted a single person to live in the 2-bedroom unit.)
● Although Documented claimed that AAFE coaxed the resident to move, the transfer was made at his request due to a personal situation he was experiencing.
● There were also assertions that the resident was required to pay more rent than his wife had previously been paying and that after AAFE secured senior citizen rental assistance for him, he was being overcharged. The truth is that his account was credited as soon as SCRIE benefits were approved and that we applied the full amount allowable under SCRIE rules, lowering his rent to $636 per month, exactly what has been paid in the previous apartment.
The article also revisits a 13-year-old lawsuit involving tenants at 28 Henry St., a privately-owned property AAFE acquired through the city’s post-9/11 Chinatown preservation program. Some of the tenants argued they were being charged too much rent. But here again, key facts are missing.
● The previous owner had allowed apartments to be illegally subdivided and some units were being used for storage rather than affordable housing. Illegal subletting was also an issue, with some apartments far in excess of legal occupancy limits. When rent stabilized apartments are used as short-term Airbnb rentals, the community is deprived of precious affordable housing units.
● Given the spotty to nonexistent record keeping by the previous landlord, it was often impossible to determine which rents were raised inappropriately. When we were able to confirm an apartment’s rental history and determine that overcharges had occurred, we made rent adjustments.
● Our priority was creating a safe environment in this building and ensuring that it was preserved as a permanent source of affordable housing in Chinatown. Today, 100% of the apartments at 28 Henry St. remain under the rent stabilization program. While all units are reserved for households earning 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) or below, many are actually rented at 60% of AMI.
In another part of the story, there are very misleading claims about several property transactions in Queens more than a decade ago.
● It is untrue that AAFE sold homes at prices above the median for comparable properties. The transactions cited were part of a program to purchase dilapidated properties for redevelopment, community renewal and affordable homeownership.
● The existing structures were demolished and replaced with brand new multi-family homes (for up to 4 families).
● The homes were sold in accordance with city deed restrictions, adhering to household income affordability guidelines.
● It is deceptive to compare these multi-family home sales to the sales of single-family homes. This program provided homeownership opportunities for middle-income families who could not otherwise have become first-time homebuyers. The reporter completely ignored the fact that these sales typically allowed members of extended families to live in different units within these multi-family dwellings.
The reporter tried to make the argument that AAFE could offer deeper affordability in its rent stabilized buildings if it chose to do so, utilizing existing rental income. But the truth of the matter is that the uses of rental revenue are tightly controlled under regulatory agreements. The largest share of these revenues go right back into the buildings for essential repairs and upgrades and to compensate our hard working maintenance staff — the same frontline workers who stayed on the job all through COVID keeping our tenants safe.
The article creates a false impression that rent stabilized housing in New York City works just like NYCHA or federal Section 8 housing, in which rent fluctuates based on changes in income. While applicants must be income qualified at the time they rent an apartment, we do not have the freedom to move rent up or down over time to account for tenants’ changing financial situations. Public and federally-backed housing projects rely on billions of dollars in federal subsidies. We do not have access to these financial resources.
We are deeply committed to providing as much affordable housing as we possibly can for low-income New Yorkers. We advocate strenuously for more units in the lowest income bands in each new project AAFE undertakes. More than 70% of our apartments in Chinatown and the Lower East Side are reserved for tenants earning 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) or below.
Could more be done to support our most vulnerable tenants? Absolutely. In the three years since our appointment as co-executive directors, we have prioritized collaboration between AAFE’s property management and community services departments to provide enhanced tenant support. We have always helped our residents apply for governmental rental assistance. We have provided assistance to more than 200 of our tenants to successfully apply for New York City’s Rent Freeze Program. In the past year, we implemented a program to identify tenants early on who are having difficulty paying their rent, and making sure they receive the counseling and resources they need to regain financial stability.
AAFE’s roots are in community organizing and we are as dedicated to advocacy today as when the organization was founded in Chinatown nearly a half century ago. At the same time, our founders realized that advocacy was not enough. It’s why we built our first affordable housing project 30 years ago and why developing and managing affordable housing is so integral to our mission today.
Government affordable housing programs are imperfect, which is why we fight alongside so many dedicated community partners for housing reforms and funding. We’re part of numerous coalitions, including Stabilizing NYC, Housing Justice for All, Stand For Tenant Safety and the Rent Justice Coalition, and we participate in the City Council’s Legal Services for the Working Poor program and the federal government’s Fair Housing Education & Outreach program.
But we firmly believe that while advocating for systemic change, we must continue to create as much new affordable housing as humanly possible. This is what keeps our historically overlooked communities in New York’s dynamic immigrant neighborhoods.
Day in and day out, we support thousands of low-income tenants, who not only thrive in our housing, but ask us when we can build more affordable opportunities for their loved ones and community members. We take pride and stand by our work and are continually affirmed by the tens of thousands residents who we serve every year and return for our program services and housing.