Fighting for Warehousing Accountability

This morning we stood on the steps of City Hall to call for passage of Intro 226, the “Warehousing Accountability Act.” Then we headed inside to testify about the bill at a hearing before the Housing & Building Committee of the City Council.

Intro 226 will require landlords who have vacant buildings and lots to pay a registration fee to enter these properties into a new city registry. After years of fighting for this, we were super excited when this legislation was introduced – originally by Letitia James, the bill now has City Council Member Debi Rose as lead sponsor.

“As homelessness and the lack of access to affordable housing continue to cripple our city, now, more than ever, we must use every resource we can to combat this widespread issue,” said New York State Attorney General Letitia James, original lead sponsor of the bill. “It is extremely important that New York City have a system in place for tracking the many public and private vacant buildings. For the sake of the thousands of New Yorkers who rely on access to quality housing, I look forward to seeing this bill becoming law.”  

“Amid a growing need for permanent housing in New York City, it is unconscionable that we have so many vacant properties lying fallow in our neighborhoods,” said current lead sponsor City Council Member Debi Rose. “A database of these properties would help us hold property owners accountable for hazardous structures that blight our neighborhoods.”  

The hearing for Intro 226 comes a day after the city’s 2019 “HOPE Count” of street homeless people. “The people are not the problem,” said Jarquay Abdullah, a member of Picture the Homeless. “Instead of counting people without homes at the 2019 HOPE Count, the city should be counting landlords who have homes without people. That’s what Intro 226 would accomplish, and that’s what NYC needs right now.”

“The Warehousing Accountability Act puts teeth in the Housing Not Warehousing Act passed during the last session by City Council,” said Professor John Krinsky of the Department of Political Science at City College of New York. “It makes landlords pay for keeping their properties vacant during one of the city’s most acute housing crises ever. This would not target landlords who register their property as vacant, but only landlords who don’t report vacant property. It would give the city some leverage over properties that are often held back from the market in order to fuel speculation, which hurts everyone.”  

“It’s imperative that the City Council passes Intro 226, because right now too many landlords are not accountable to their communities,” said Mrs. Arvernetta Henry, a member of Picture the Homeless. “If we can better understand the problem of property warehousing, we can come up with better solutions.”  

“As New York City faces a homelessness and housing crisis alongside rising property values, it is more critical than ever that the limited land we do have is used as efficiently as possible; vacant land is completely counterproductive to these efforts,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “By requiring property owners to register vacant lots and buildings in a City database, Intro 226 would offer a clearer picture of the vacant land that currently exists in New York City and equip City agencies with knowledge necessary to ensure that land is being used to meet our City’s needs. I look forward to continuing to support this legislation and will continue to advocate for the implementation of a vacancy tax to bolster these efforts.”  

“Housing is a human right, but for that right to become a reality, we can no longer treat vacant properties as commodities and investments—those vacant properties need to house people,” said Charlie Dulik, Youth Organizer at Churches United for Fair Housing. “As long as real estate markets keep pushing tens of thousands of New Yorkers into homelessness, every vacant property is complicit in our current crisis. By tracking vacancy and charging registration fees, the Warehousing Accountability Act is a simple, just step toward fixing that problem.”  

“Homelessness is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “We need to kick this habit of using temporary shelters to warehouse people and instead prioritize sheltering everyone in permanent, full service locations. This bill will help us do that by filling a gap in our knowledge of where vacant lots exist.”  

“This bill is important to me, because landlords are keeping property off the market while the housing crisis is getting desperate,” said PTH member Charmel Lucas. “Right now we have seniors dying in the shelter system. Three have died in mine alone, in the past few months. All senior citizens, all women, all African-American. The city, and landlords, need to be held accountable.”