|Print this story||Permalink|
Queens lawmakers found themselves in an 11th-hour showdown last week between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic Assembly, a conflict that resulted in the state Legislatures extending the citys existing rent laws for another eight years.
There are more than 150,000 rent-stabilized apartments in Queens.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) and Republican Gov. George Pataki pushed through an extension of the law that allowed landlords to charge market prices once a vacant rent-stabilized apartment reaches a monthly rent of $2,000.
The Senate adjourned after passing its bill Friday, forcing the Assembly to pass the same extension hours after the old regulations had expired to prevent leaving millions of tenants throughout the state without any rent controls whatsoever.
The governor left us very little choice, said Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), the only Queens assembly member to vote against the extension.
He pointed a gun at our constituent tenants heads, and we couldnt afford to let him pull the trigger, said Weprin of his Assembly colleagues.
Weprin voted against the new extension as an expression of disapproval when it became evident the law would pass anyway.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said through a spokesman that the expiration of the existing regulations didnt come as a surprise and earlier negotiations on the part of both houses of the Legislature could have resulted in a better bill.
As it is, we were able to work to defeat proposals to lower the threshold for luxury vacancy decontrol, which would have been disastrous for millions of working-class New Yorkers, said Padavan.
The powerful Republican senator, who also voted against the bill, led an unsuccessful drive to raise the vacancy decontrol threshold to $2,500 to keep up with inflation.
Landlord groups had lobbied for the threshold to be lowered to $1,500.
Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, a trade group representing landlords, said vacancy decontrol had allowed property owners to better maintain their buildings.
We were definitely hoping that they would lower the threshold, said Ricci. At least theres eight years worth of certainty now, and thats important.
Michael McKee, associate director of the Tenants and Neighbors renters advocacy group, was not happy with the extension.
By extending these weakened laws for eight more years, the governor and Legislature have all but gutted the rent regulation system, which because of the new provisions and the failure to repeal vacancy decontrol, will see the loss of hundreds of thousands of apartments before the laws are scheduled to sunset again, said McKee.
The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal listed 156,958 rent-stabilized apartments and about 10,000 rent-controlled apartments in Queens in 2002. Tenants and Neighbors told the TimesLedger recently that its figures showed 198,244 rent-stabilized apartments and 9,251 rent-controlled apartments in the borough.
The median monthly rent for a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City was $703 in 2002, according to Tenants and Neighbors.
The good news is that tenants in the short term will be protected, said Weprin. However, in the long term this is going to exacerbate the problem of not having affordable housing in New York City.
In addition to extending the status quo for eight years, the Legislature strengthened the states control over New York Citys rent laws.
An existing provision known as the Urstadt law, passed during the governorship of Nelson Rockefeller, was clarified in last weeks extension. It prohibits cities with a population of a million or more from imposing more stringent rent regulations than those that are encoded in the state law.
The assemblyman said the original Urstadt law was conceived to ensure a steady stream of campaign contributions from landlords into the pockets of state legislators.
It seems a little ridiculous that Joe Bruno, who represents Saratoga, has possibly the biggest say in whether New York City has rent laws or not, said Weprin.
McKee blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not urging the repeal of the Urstadt law and criticized downstate Republican senators, such as Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), for not standing up to Bruno or joining Padavans earlier legislation to repeal vacancy decontrol.
Maltese, who could not be reached for comment, was the only Queens senator to vote for the extension.
City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who sits on the Councils Housing and Buildings Committee, thought the city should have more control of its rent laws, not less.
The argument was the state will do a better job of managing it. That has not come to pass. It has been the reverse, said Avella.
Florence Kleinfeld, a member of the board of the Fresh Meadows Tenants Association, called the eight-year extension the sugarcoating on this bitter pill of vacancy decontrol.
A vacant one-bedroom apartment in Fresh Meadows, which has more than 3,000 units, now goes for about $1,100, said Kleinfeld.
Fresh Meadows management has recently renovated kitchens and stocked them with new appliances, she said.
They are really trying to get to the magic number so it goes off stabilization, said Kleinfeld, who did not know if the kitchen renovations were under way as she spoke.
Though a relatively few number of tenants in Fresh Meadows are new, our neighborhood will be unrecognizable in eight years, Kleinfeld predicted.
Philip Newman contributed to this report.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
|Print this story||Permalink|
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.