Aaron Carr

Aaron Carr, Founder and Executive Director of Housing Rights Initiative

“Without public data and technology, Housing Rights Initiative wouldn’t exist. Landlords are required to register a plethora of information with various city agencies. Therefore, every irregularity and illegality is a matter of public record. The government isn’t looking, but we can.”

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Meet Aaron Carr. Aaron is the former Chief of Staff for New York State Assemblymember Michael A. Blake in the South Bronx. It was in that role where Aaron engaged in all-out trench warfare with some of the most predatory landlords in New York City. Shortly after catching the housing bug, Aaron founded the non-profit Housing Rights Initiative, which uses a data-driven approach to identifying fraudulent real estate practices and orchestrating class-action lawsuits against predatory landlords. Aside from his passion for impact litigation, Aaron’s interests include taking long naps on his couch and kvetching about the subway. You can connect with him on Twitter

What Does He Do?

Aaron Carr is the founder and executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI). A focus of HRI is New York City’s rent-stabilized housing stock, which — at almost half of all apartments — is the city’s largest affordable housing program.

New York’s rent stabilization program was originally intended to provide tenants with affordable, manageable and predictable rent increases, albeit in one of the most unaffordable, unmanageable, and unpredictable rental markets in the entire country.

Yet, as Aaron notes, “oftentimes when an apartment goes vacant and no one is looking, predatory landlords raise the rent in excess of what they are allowed to under rent stabilization laws. HRI connects aggrieved tenants to no-cost legal support and fights to get back what was stolen from the families of New York City.”

The building blocks of HRI are target, investigate, and resolve.

“Tenants in New York City live in an enforcement desert, which disproportionally impacts those who lack legal representation, predominantly low income, communities of color and the working class. A lack of enforcement makes it easy for predatory landlords to illegally push tenants out of affordable housing and replace them with higher-paying tenants. In a vicious, volatile, and overheated real estate market, unscrupulous landlords have a big incentive to engage in this type of misconduct.”

With regard to the recent scandal over the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)’s failure to conduct lead inspections, Aaron is clear: “[It is] an abomination of the worst kind. Shola Olatoye misled the feds, placed children at risk, and should step down immediately. (As of publication, Ms. Olaytoye remains at the helm of NYCHA.)

Aaron is passionate that we must expose and address mass corruption among NYC landlords:

“Accordingly to an audit conducted by the New York State Government, 40% of landlords were illegally overcharging tenants in rent-stabilized units. There are 2.5 million rent-stabilized tenants in New York City. We are in the midst of a rent fraud epidemic.”

What’s more, it’s easy to follow the money, if only we are committed to doing so:

“Landlords are inadvertently disclosing their fraudulent rent schemes on their very own property tax statements and registration statements with the government. The government has all the data, but inexplicably fails to do anything with it.”

How Did He Get Into This Work?

Aaron’s parents instilled within him the values of hard work and respect. “My mom was a psychologist and my dad was a prominent autism researcher. They dedicated their lives to the underdog because everyone deserves a fair fight.”

“After my parents passed away in a car crash, I decided it was time to stop fucking around. I spent the remainder of my college career sequestered in the library and then I started life in public service.”

Aaron worked on local, city, and state-wide political campaigns before becoming Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Blake in the South Bronx, where he gained vital experience dealing with housing issues that negatively impacted the quality of life for vulnerable families. In that role, Aaron and his team took a systematic and proactive approach by going into target buildings and collecting the data needed to actuate tangible change. Driven by what he describes as “an insatiable desire to have a tangible and quantifiable impact on the lives of vulnerable families,” Aaron founded HRI.

What Project Is He Working On?

Given that we’ve just embarked on a new year, Aaron has a few resolutions: Buoyed by those lengthy naps he is game to pursue 100 or more class-action lawsuits in 2018. (HRI brought some 20 suits in 2017, including one against the Kushner Companies.)

“The city should collect the hundreds of millions of dollars in fines that it is owed from landlords who are blatantly circumventing the law. Its failure to do so is economically and morally reprehensible. This is revenue that could be used to build additional affordable housing units while creating a deterrent effect against the very misconduct that is causing apartments to be illegally removed from affordability in the first place.”

How would HRI measure success in this campaign?

“Millions of dollars in rent refunds and rent reductions, and tens of thousands of units returned to affordability.”

How Did He Come to Civic Hall?

Aaron first learned of Civic Hall from former staffer Chloe Chik. He joined because of our collaborative environment, not to mention the presence of fellow housing startup’s, JustFix.nyc and Heat Seek NYC.

“We have a close relationship with both organizations and love brainstorming new ideas with them. Just Fix and Heatseek are streamlining the process for tenants to collect evidence against disorderly landlords and then utilizing it in the court of law. This is game-changing and unprecedented work.”

What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?

Aaron reminds the community that what we’re already doing makes a profound difference in the lives of our fellow New Yorkers:

“Without public data and technology, Housing Rights Initiative wouldn’t exist. Landlords are required to register a plethora of information with various city agencies. Therefore, every irregularity and illegality is a matter of public record. The government isn’t looking, but we can.”

This spring Aaron hopes to host a brown bag lunch to share thoughts about housing issues, with other member orgs (as cited above) who are working in overlapping spaces.