We Can’t Forget Small Homeowners Impacted by the Housing Affordability Crisis

By Margenett Moore-Roberts | June 17, 2024

It took 15 years of saving and a lot of luck for me to be able to buy a home in New York City, it is a blessing I count every day.

Anyone who has navigated the journey of homeownership in one of the most expensive cities in the world knows that buying the home is only half the battle, the other half is keeping it. Beyond meeting the monthly mortgage, the rising costs of maintaining a home can be a strain on any New York City budget, especially if you experience a life event that affects your finances (children off to college, job loss, retirement, death of a partner, etc.). Very few of us are exempt from the financial ups and downs of life. For small homeowners in New York City, it’s not only about meeting the monthly mortgage, it’s also about the perpetually rising costs of property taxes, homeowner’s insurance rates, and the realities of maintaining one hundred year old homes.

For thousands of New York City homeowners, the legal right and autonomy to use the homes we live in for unrestricted short-term rentals has served as a lifeline during times of financial transition. Since NYC started enforcement of overly broad and restrictive short-term rental (STR) regulations, embedded in the NYC housing code and endorsed by Local Law 18, small homeowners who have been stripped of a vital source of income that helped us afford and maintain the homes we live in. I am one of them. That’s why I joined RHOAR (Restore HomeOwner Autonomy & Rights) NYC, a diverse coalition of homeowners advocating for amendments to regulations that restrict small homeowners from offering short-term rentals in the homes we live in.

Small homeowners are not responsible for NYC’s housing crisis. We are not the “bad actors” that the law was intended to target. We have not hoarded dozens of rental units from the  NYC rental market. We have not disrupted the safety and peace of multi-dwelling apartment communities. We do not want to enable the gross exploitation of the short-term rental market. Instead, we have supported the communities we live in by enabling micro-economies that support small business, community jobs, neighbors in need of nearby short-term housing solutions for themselves and/or visiting family members, and, yes, tourists who want authentic NYC neighborhood experiences. At the end of the day, we are simply using the resources we have to provide housing security and financial stability for our families and as a means of being self-sufficient vs. relying on the government.

The affordable housing crisis is one of the most complex challenges facing our city. As the cost of living continues to rise, working and middle-income New Yorkers are making the painful decision to relocate. This trend disproportionately impacts lower- to middle-income and BIPOC homeowners across all five boroughs. According to an article in the New York Times, over the last 20 years more than 200,000 Black families have left New York City largely due to the exorbitant costs of raising a family and maintaining a home here.

Elected officials deserve credit for recognizing the seriousness of the current housing affordability crisis, however, only a portion of the crisis is being addressed. Discussions and programs surrounding New York City’s housing affordability crisis tend to focus almost exclusively on renters and new home buyers. However, existing lower- and middle-income homeowners, who are also “severely housing-cost burdened (spending more than 50% of income on housing costs)” are also struggling to afford to stay in their homes and in the city they love.

NYC’s Local Law 18 – fully activated last September – was originally intended to curtail “bad actors” from exploiting the short-term rental market by turning apartment buildings and other multi-dwelling units into illegal hotels. However, an unintended yet brutal consequence of the regulations has been the severe impact on small homeowners who rely on the supplemental income from short-term rentals to make ends meet.

All short-term rentals are not the same. For generations, New York City’s lower- and middle-income homeowners have had to rely on multiple streams of income to afford their homes. Regardless of how it may appear, owning a home in New York City does not automatically mean you are wealthy. For some, owning a home in New York City can be a financial and emotional drain, sometimes requiring multiple people to work multiple jobs to keep a family housed and properly fed. For families like these, the supplemental income from short-term rentals is the difference between being able to afford the home they live in and becoming a statistical casualty of the surging foreclosure rates that have plagued NYC homeowners over the last few years (accordingly to Property Shark, foreclosure rates rose by 87% YOY from 2022 to 2023).

By not drawing a distinction between small homeowners who offer STR in the homes we live in and “bad actors” who bought or rented housing units for the express and exclusive purpose of doing short-term rental, Local Law 18 has enabled a new housing affordability crisis for homeowners and New York City. Meanwhile, these same regulations provide the wealthiest New Yorkers and investors with a highly profitable and unfettered fast-track to the same short-term rental market that has been slammed shut for low- and middle-income homeowners. feature loopholes that allow owners of multi-million-dollar condos in the city’s wealthy hotel residences, and other class B buildings, to charge up to $9,000 per night for short-term rental stays. It’s time to recognize the systemic inequities embedded in the severe restrictions of Local Law 18 and rectify the economic injustice in our housing policies.  Doing so will help preserve the cultural and economic diversity of our neighborhoods and ensure that New York remains a city for everyone.

On behalf of the hundreds of small homeowners across New York City who are working their behinds off to afford to keep a roof over the heads of the people they love, we respectfully ask Mayor Adams to authorize an immediately pause on the enforcement of Local Law 18 for owner-occupied one- and two-family homeowners to allow the City Council time to review and understand the impact these enforcements are having on homeowner affordability in the districts they serve. Ultimately, asking for a very narrow set of amendments to the housing code that will enable one- and two-family homeowners to offer unrestricted short-term rentals in the homes we live in as a self-sufficient mechanism to protect housing security and financial stability for our families.

Driving hard-working homeowners out of the city will not solve the housing affordability crisis. Instead, it will exacerbate the economic inequities that already plague New York City and ensure that only the very wealthy can afford to own and maintain homes here. As the City Council develops and launches a myriad of housing affordability initiatives like “Homes Now,” we urge the city to include a mandate to protect NYC’s existing homeowners, starting with common-sense amendments to short-term rental restrictions that help small homeowners afford to stay in our homes—and the city we love.

Margenett Moore-Roberts is the founder and Principal Consultant for The Moore Roberts Group, LLC. She is also a member of RHOAR NYC, working alongside hundreds of other small homeowners to restore the autonomy and rights to use short-term rentals to help provide housing security, financial stability, and self-sufficiency for themselves and their loved ones.