Tenant Groups Sound Call: ‘Renew Rent Controls!"
By John Toscano
With the expiration of rent controls next Mar. 31st fast approaching, tenant groups around the city are pressing the panic button to try to get some action going to renew the controls.
Feeding their fears of being left at the mercy of landlords is the memory of what they feel were pro-landlord bills passed in recent years by the City Council.
Tenant activists are also fearful that more of the same may be in store, especially since most Council incumbents don’t have to worry about facing the electorate again for re-election because term limits prevents them from running again in 2004.
Those with the most to worry about are senior citizens, living on a generally low and fixed income and low and middle income tenants.
If the Council does vote to extend controls, the bill will then have to be acted on by the state legislature, where prospects for tenants will also be poor because of the Republican controlled pro-landlord state Senate.
Holiday Time In Astoria
The carriage came down the wrong side of Broadway Monday but no tickets were issued to the pretty white horse. Instead the crowd gave out a great big cheer as the carriage’s fares, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, offered a friendly wave and stepped down to a throng of happy faces. It was the annual Astoria kickoff to the holiday season and despite a lack of snow at mid November, the crowd of nearly 1000 onlookers got a big kick as child by child lined up for an up-close peek at the visitors from the North Pole and a smartly wrapped present. The event was sponsored by the Central Astoria Local Development Corporation in conjunction with the Steinway Business Improvement District, the Broadway Astoria Merchants Professsionals Association, the Dutch Kills Civic Association and the 30th Avenue Business Association.
Photos Brian Winzeworth
The slowness with which legislative bodies work is another reason for the sense of urgency exhibited by the tenant group.
The first major alarm by the tenant groups was sounded two weeks ago when letters went out from the Citywide Tenant Coalition to all its member organizations, urging them to get the members to turn out in force for an emergency hearing on housing that was held by the Assembly Housing Committee at 270 Broadway, across the street from City Hall.
Focused on the state’s Affordable Housing Crisis, tenant activists used the occasion to make a pitch for continuance of rent controls because of a lack of sufficient rental housing in New York City.
One speaker, City Councilmember Sheldon Leffler (D-Eastern Queens), pointed out that tenant activists, among them the Queens League of United Tenants (QLOUT) had called for the hearing "to underscore" the housing emergency.
Leffler also noted that state Comptroller H. Carl McCall and a recent report from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Renewal (HUD)had placed New York City "at the apex of a national housing shortage."
Leffler declared: "Lack of affordable housing for the middle class has New York City’s economic development in a stranglehold."
Leffler, sounding a theme which was repeated by many of the tenant activists at the hearing, said that the housing shortage was one of the main reasons "we must continue rent regulations and tenant protections without any weakening amendment."
He also urged "expanded rent regulations and tenant protections to deregulated cooperative units held by the sponsor or the holder of unsold shares."
The lawmaker also called for policies to spur construction of new housing for people with low and middle incomes.
"Average people, young and old, searching for a place to live and maintaining a home in New York City are desperate," Leffler declared. The situation was also a reason for the active market in illegal housing conversions, he added.
Tenant fears of favorable rent law changes for landlords trace back to 1997 and 1994. In 1994, the Council voted to decontrol thousands of apartments in what came to be called "luxury decontrol." This led to additional decontrol when the 1997 renewal of the law was enacted.
Landlord groups have long maintained that there was no longer any need to continue controls of higher priced apartments because occupants could easily afford higher rents.
But as the higher rents have been imposed in Manhattan, tenants are fleeing to Queens, said QLOUT president Penny LaForest, tightening the market even farther here and driving up rents.
The 1994 amendment authorized the decontrol of an apartment renting for $2,000 a month or more once the unit became vacant, and the immediate decontrol for households with annual incomes of at least $175,000 a year. Rent control proponents fear the latter threshold may be reduced to $100,000 annual income.
While the threat is real that further luxury decontrol may be enacted, its unlikely lower rent apartments occupied by seniors and low income tenants would be adversely changed.