NEW YORK – Today, Council Member Margaret S. Chin issued a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio to provide emergency relief to long-suffering small property owners of tenement buildings in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the overwhelming majority of which house rent-stabilized and rent-controlled units at deeply affordable rents.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, these small family property owners have been struggling to keep up with disproportionately high operating expenses and property taxes. With commercial and residential tenants now unable to pay rent, these property owners are left with even fewer resources to cover the bills and maintain their aging buildings. Without immediate City intervention, they will be in jeopardy of irreversible financial distress.

“What make Chinatown and the Lower East Side unique are their historic tenement buildings and the thousands of diverse long-time tenants who call them home – many of whom are low income immigrant seniors who can pay as little as $50 in rent. These legacy buildings are usually passed down from generation to generation within a family, or are owned by Chinese Family Associations that have shaped the fabric of Chinatown for more than 100 years,” said Council Member Chin. “For years, these small property owners have been integral partners in the work to preserve deeply affordable housing stock in immigrant neighborhoods, often without any recognition or the ability to access government relief programs. But this crisis we’re confronting has magnified the urgency to protect housing for the most vulnerable at an unprecedentedly large scale, and it is past time that our City recognize the contributions of this constituency and provide the relief they desperately need.”

In her letter, Council Member Chin called on City Hall to support a list of measures that would provide emergency relief to this special pool of small property owners. These measures include: establishing a targeted property tax deferral program for small owners, advocating for federal funding to forgive some deferrals, instituting a moratorium of administrative fines and fees for violations that do not impact public health and safety, providing emergency subsidies for owners to cover utilities and water bills, and temporarily suspending the Commercial Rent Tax for mom and pop merchants in these buildings.

Council Member Chin has also asked for the Mayor’s backing for State level efforts to fund emergency rental assistance vouchers and postpone mortgage and sales tax payments.

Hit with unfair and often arbitrary property tax payments, these small property owners often bear the cost of legal fees to fight for reassessments. Many are unsuccessful. According to neighborhood BIDS, the hundreds of rent-regulated units in these tenement buildings comprise a majority of the affordable housing stock in their catchment areas.

Attached is Council Member Chin’s full letter to the Mayor.