Stepping between a New Yorker and his rent-controlled apartment
just isn't done.
In a city where the average Upper East Sider now pays almost
$2,000 a month for a cramped, one-bedroom apartment,
rent-controlled units are hoarded, traded surreptitiously, and
passed from generation to generation like family heirlooms.
Divorced couples have continued living together rather than give up
their below-market digs.
But this hallowed institution is now under siege from upstate
New York lawmakers, and downstate city dwellers are outraged.
"People already have enough trouble paying their rents," says
Hilda Chavis, a retiree who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment in
the Bronx. "Where does Joe Bruno expect us to go?"
Joe Bruno is the blunt, powerful state Senate majority leader
who's thrown down the gantlet. A self-made, upstate millionaire and
avowed free marketeer, the Republican lawmaker is threatening to
let New York's rent control laws expire on June 15, unless
supporters agree to a phase out.
"Rent regulations are the single greatest impediment to creating
new housing opportunities," Senator Bruno says, noting that New
Yorkers should move to wherever they can afford to live, "like
everybody else in the world."
Nationwide, rent-control laws are being challenged and rolled
back. Last year, California limited its cities' and towns' ability
to stabilize rents. In 1994, Massachusetts residents voted to
abolish rent control and the last units were phased out in December.
So far, neither the predictions of doom nor the promises of
abundant affordable housing have come true in either state. But
housing experts say the impact will be felt in the future,
especially when combined with the federal government's continued
cuts in housing programs.
"Overall, we're now concerned most about the long-term loss of
affordable housing," says Patricia Canavan, housing policy adviser
to the mayor in Boston. She notes that Boston rents have jumped 14
percent since 1995.
In New York City and the surrounding counties, more than a
million apartments are rent-controlled or rent stabilized. They
account for about one-third of the city's housing stock. The vast
majority of the tenants are middle class.
World War II legacy
Rent-control laws went into effect here after World War II when
returning GIs faced an acute housing shortage and deep price
gouging. The "emergency" regulations have been renewed almost every
two to four years since.
"Without rent controls, you'll have an unbridled housing market
that will make today's housing crisis look like a picnic," says
Michael McKee, head of the New York State Tenants and Neighborhood
Coalition's campaign to defeat Senator Bruno. …