By Philip Newman
City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) introduced a resolution Monday calling for passage of legislation renewing and strengthening rent regulations to preserve “affordable places to live” in New York City.
Before bringing the bill before the Council, Katz addressed a rally of tenants’ advocacy groups in front of City Hill, recalling her time as a member of the state Assembly in 1997 during a down-to-the-wire struggle over renewal of the rent regulations.
The Assembly earlier this month passed a bill extending the laws — now scheduled to run out in 2003 — until 2008. Passage is not assured in the Senate, with a Republican majority.
“I remember the fear, the feeling of almost helplessness of some of the thousands of tenants who came to Albany by the busload to support the Assembly’s position,” Katz told the demonstrators.
“The pressure to pass this renewal with only one month to go inherently forced the parties to the table at an unfair advantage. The state must allay fears and send a clear message that the state is supportive of stabilizing the city anyway it can. This is fair, it is equitable and it is the right thing to do.”
The city is facing a nearly $5 billion budget gap as a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and an already slowing economy. Job losses have risen sharply and many New Yorkers are uncertain about their own financial futures.
“People need to understand that unless there are affordable places to live, unless there is a support system, unless there is stability in the housing market, this city’s residents will not have the confidence nor the ability to stay,” Katz said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he does not plan to enter the fray over rent regulation.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) introduced a bill in the state Senate to extend rent regulations but passage in that Republican-majority body is far from assured and, in any case, it would have to be signed by Republican Gov. George Pataki.
The ploy by the Democratic-controlled Assembly is aimed at smoking Pataki on the sensitive rent issue during an election year although the regulations are not scheduled to expire until 2003.
State Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) had in 1997 vowed to allow the regulations to die through inaction by the Senate, but that did not come to pass.
Nearly 1.1 million apartments in New York City, along with others in Westchester and other upstate counties as well as on Long Island are under the rent regulations.
According to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, there are 156,958 apartments under rent stabilization and about 10,000 under rent control in Queens.
Tenant advocates contend that much of the homelessness in New York City has been the result of the weakening of rent laws over the past decade, including a loophole allowing decontrol of apartments when rent reaches $2,000 a month.
Tenant advocates say that $2,000 mark is easily reached by renovating an apartment when it becomes vacant. Landlord groups say the shortage of rentals is due to the control laws.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.